APFIP Variety Evaluation: Pears that will arrive well before the heirsResearch & Extension
A year into his role as APFIP Operations Manager Tom Frankcomb provides an update on APFIP activity and what’s coming in the apple and pear breeding pipeline.
Now that I have been in the role of the Operations Manager of APFIP for a bit over a year it is a good opportunity to provide an update, some observations and details of future plans and activities around the variety evaluation service that APFIP provides.
The 2018–2019 season saw me primarily occupied with gaining a broad understanding of the various APFIP evaluation sites around the country, meeting the key people associated with the management of these sites and familiarising myself with the close to 80 apple and pear varieties in these sites.
The 2020 season will finish very differently to how it began, however the goal continues to be to grow the knowledge and observations from the evaluations to improve decision-making ability in order to achieve several things for the industry and breeders/owners of new varieties.
The APFIP aims for 2020 have been:
- To build the knowledge about the varieties before they go into evaluation.
- To ensure that the varieties that show more promising characteristics in a particular region are promoted to the stage 3 sites to allow more trees to be planted, hence more fruit and also be in a site where grower/industry viewing is possible.
- To ensure that the varieties that do not look promising in particular climates/regions are scaled back in their evaluation input.
- Always be on the lookout for varieties that show “x” factor characteristics in particular regions/climates or even over the whole country.
- Maintain and improve the consistency and comparability of the evaluations and observations around the various growing regions.
The 2020 season started off well with my visits to sites to ensure we get the simple things done properly such as any pruning, thinning etc.
In late January, all the evaluators got together for a refresher workshop in the Goulburn Valley and visited sites in the early harvest period including, luckily, NZ – both Hawkes Bay and Nelson. Once the COVID-19 travel shutdown started that meant being safely ensconced in Tasmania, still however able to visit our Huon evaluation sites.
In focus: PFR
APFIP already has cultivars from over 15 different breeders around the globe. The aim is to increase this, with a particular focus on cultivars that will handle the increasingly extreme and warming environment experienced in many Australian growing regions.
The work of the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research (PFR) apple and pear breeding program is a good place to start, as the Australian industry still has access to PFR cultivars through its shareholding in the program’s commercialisation arm, Prevar.
PFR cultivars receive the same rigorous evaluation as any other breeding program’s varieties in our sites. I was able to make two trips to New Zealand this season prior to COVID-19 to build our knowledge of this program, the last in the first week of March.
Observations of both pears and apples are shared below.
Among the pears in the pipeline is one with an amazing deep orange colour that consistently performs in the extreme 40 degree-plus Shepparton heat, maturing in mid-February.
It does not share the same internal qualities of the PiqaBoo but the plant breeders have recognised the ability of this pear to colour in extreme heat and have been using this and its genes in breeding crosses. With patience I am sure we are likely to see an interspecific pear that has colour that is stable in the heat and interesting and unique flavours that consumers will love.
Other areas of the interspecific breeding are producing pears with tree growth and precocity traits more like apples. These types of features together with an increased adoption of precocious pear rootstocks have the potential to see an end to the old adage that you “plant pears for your heirs”. Below is a picture of such a pear tree. This pear also has a unique appearance, rather like a speckled egg, we shall have to see how it performs in evaluation over the coming seasons.
Heat tolerant apples
Whilst the PFR-bred apples grown in Australia – two examples include Scifresh (marketed as Jazz™) and Scilate (as Envy™) – appear better suited to cooler climatic regions, the performance of several varieties in the APFIP evaluation sites indicates that some PFR-bred apples do perform well in the hotter more extreme areas growing regions.
One apple that is present in both evaluation sites and Stage 3 sites around the country has many attributes that deserve growers’ attention.
This apple has performed well in most regions, especially so in the extremes experienced by the Stanthorpe region this season and equally as well as Granny Smith. The other interesting observation is the growth habit, which, along with its productivity, suggest it may suit narrow 2D fruiting canopies.
Being in stage 3 sites means that next season 2021, post COVID-19, APFIP will be able to host grower days to enable viewing.
The next step must be to assess consumer acceptability, the stage 3 sites will allow fruit for limited tastings.
Whilst many in the industry feel that there are too many varieties that will struggle to hold shelf space at the retail level, I hope that this short article will give an insight into the methodology that APFIP is aiming to bring into the variety evaluation in Australia so that we can help the industry better select varieties, not just because of the desire to have something new that someone else in the globe has grown, but because it:
- Suits the growing region/climate it is to be grown in
- Is productive and brings advantages to the grower in seeking to adopt higher productivity and or robotic suitable, growing systems
- Produces fruit with an “x” factor appeal to the consumers that they want to buy and gives them consistent eating experiences – just like our number one apple Pink Lady has done.
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APFIP is funded by Hort Innovation using the apple and pear research and development and contributions from the Australian Government.