Apr 7, 2007
Success of New Varieties Spurs Hunt for More Like Them

There’s plenty of activity in the tree fruit nursery business these days as nurserymen hunt for new varieties -– like “the next Honeycrisp”apple – and sort their way through the many peach varieties growers have to choose from.

Nursery representatives from the East, West and Midwest, said a few trends are bringing excitement to the business of providing trees to growers.

East

In the East, part of the good news is that nurseries in Adams County, Pa., are recovering from the effects of plum pox.

Kurt Smith at Boyer Nurseries said they’re “back in business,” having moved their stone fruit growing operations into Delaware to get outside the quarantined area in Pennsylvania. Trees from Delaware are coming next spring.

“Every time there’s a new incidence, it adds seven years to the quarantine,” he said about the plum pox situation.

Inspectors continue to find infected trees, seven years after the initial findings in 1999. Quarantine rules prohibit planting stone fruits for seven years after the latest finding in an area.

Boyer, Adams County Nursery and others have moved stone fruit growing operations to Delaware and continue to grow apples and other non-stone fruits at their Pennsylvania locations.

Smith said the Delaware locations are actually an improvement, since the soils are flatter, the growing season is a little longer and the sandy soils make digging easier.

“It’s perfect for sales of bare-root trees,” he said.

In peaches, Boyer offers Stellar and Flamin’ Fury varieties, plus old standards like Redhaven.

Boyer caters to people who want to grow a few trees, and sells “classic” peach varieties and “a big list” of “antique” apples like Gravenstein, Wolf River, Spitzenberg, Cox’s Orange Pippin and local favorite Smoke House, a nutty, spicy variety discovered behind a Lancaster County Amish farmer’s smokehouse in the 1800s.

“We can’t grow enough Honeycrisp,” he said, echoing the experience of many nurseries.

Boyer has decided to propagate other University of Minnesota varieties, including the new SnowSweet and the early variety Zestar! He’s impressed with the level of market support U-M provides for its new varieties.

West

Four West Coast nurseries continue their quest for new and better apples through joint efforts in International New-Varieties Network (INN). Jack Snyder, president of C&O Nursery in Wenatchee, Wash., said growers would shortly see one of the results of that international cooperation in a new apple variety from Italy called Rubens. It will be a managed, or club, variety. Trees are being produced now and more details will be out soon.

“A new variety needs a lot of legs to carry it,” Snyder said, which is why the four nurseries decided 10 years ago to join in a worldwide effort to find better varieties and support them.

The U.S. nurseries involved in the effort are C&O, Van Well and Willow Drive in Washington and ProTree Nurseries in California. Membership was limited to 12, four from the United States, four from Europe and one each from New Zealand, Australia, Chile and South Africa.

Snyder is chair of the U.S. group and vice-chair of the international group.

Promising varieties, either bred or discovered, are evaluated in orchards in all the countries, good production areas are identified and growing and marketing plans developed. A variety that can be grown in many places can gain a more prominent place in the market by being produced in different seasons, Snyder said.

The members include four breeding programs and work with others, such as those at U.S. land-grant universities, and the members continue to monitor their orchards and growers’ orchards for useful new mutations and sports. Everyone looks for Gala strains that can be harvested in one or two pickings, for earlier strains of Fuji or Braeburn and for redder strains of everything, Snyder said.

INN members recently gained rights to grow and market two new varieties owned by Italian member Consorzio Italiano Vivaisti, which continues to control its acreage.

Rubens is a cross of Gala and Elstar and ripens 10 to 15 days after Gala. It is bicolored, tart-sweet and Gala-size. About a million trees have been planted in Europe.

The network’s U.S. members are producing certified propagation material in preparation for the variety’s release in North America. Discussions are under way with grower-packers who might be interested in having production and marketing rights for Rubens, Snyder said.

The other variety, Modi, is a cross of Gala and Liberty. Modi is a solid, highly colored apple that matures with Golden Delicious and stores well. It is scab resistant and very productive, Snyder said, with larger fruit than Rubens.

The same concept is being used with other fruits including pears, peaches, nectarines and cherries, Snyder said.

“What we’re trying to do in the INN is work on varieties that have worldwide acceptance.”

Midwest

Wanda Heuser Gale, with Summit Trees Sales and International Tree Fruit Management in Michigan, said hot trends in apples include early Fuji and Honeycrisp. Things that are “not hot” are processing varieties like Ida Red, Rome and Jonathan. Red Delicious also is on the “not hot” list.

Several strains of early Fuji are being marketed, all of them five to six weeks earlier than standard Fuji and redder as well, she said. Since standard Fuji ripens “very, very late,” Fujis have presented some problems for northern growers trying to get them ripe – but more importantly, lateness has been a barrier to sales at farm and farmers’ markets.

“Fujis are good for the wholesale market, but they ripen beyond the farm market season,” which typically ends about Halloween, she said. So, people who like this sweet apple don’t find it at farm markets. But the new, earlier strains are changing that.

University of Minnesota-bred apples, in the wake of Honeycrisp, are becoming more available as the university promotes them more aggressively. The new varieties Zestar! and SnowSweet are readily available to growers, she said, unlike some of the older Minnesota varieties like Red Haralson and Sweet Sixteen, good apples that never caught on well outside Minnesota.

Zestar!, which is tart, is early. For those who like a sweeter apple, like the traditional early varieties, “Dandee Red has been excellent for us,” Gale said. It is a mid-August, McIntosh-style apple.

In peaches, Gale said the market has been steady, but there are “a glut of varieties, more than growers need.” Still, there are “serious differences in size, color and flavor, so growers need to investigate and find varieties that fit for them.

“Don’t waste your time planting old varieties,” she said.




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