The new Kalei apple, bred by Queensland government researchers and now being commercialised by APAL, was the centre of discussions at a recent field day. Principal Horticulturalist with Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), Simon Middleton, and IP Manager at APAL, Garry Langford, shared their knowledge and insights about the new variety.
On Monday 4 April, around 40 people from across Australia and the world were in Stanthorpe, Queensland, to see, taste and learn about the new Queensland-bred apple called Kalei.
“Kalei has attracted global interest because it is resistant to one of the world’s most problematic apple diseases called apple scab or blackspot,” explains Garry, who is managing the commercialisation of Kalei. “Moreover, Kalei has a lovely sweet taste, stays fresher for longer and has a rich pinkish-burgundy colour when ripe that makes it very attractive.”
Garry leads APAL’s work to manage the Pink Lady® brand of apples across more than 80 territories that has led to Pink Lady becoming the world’s number one premium apple brand. It was through these connections that Garry managed to garner such broad global interest in Kalei, with the tree already being planted in trials overseas.
Companies from France, Germany, Italy, South Africa, New Zealand and the USA attended the Kalei apple field day in Stanthorpe to see mature Kalei trees growing in the orchard and learn more about their growing requirements.
Kalei’s story however begins a lot earlier, in the 1980s, when DAF, at its Applethorpe Research Facility, first started work on breeding new apples. Their original aim was to develop an apple that was resistant to apple scab given the prevalence and cost of the disease to the local industry.
Numerous people have been involved in the breeding and development of Kalei over the last 30 years, but the turning point was in 1993 when the first cross between Royal Gala and CPR7T90 (an unpatented scab resistant selection from the US) was made by Stephen Tancred and Aldo Zeppa, both working with DAF at the time (the then Department of Primary Industries, Queensland).
After preliminary disease screening, the first seedlings were planted in 1995, with Aldo making the first selections thereafter of RS103-130 (Kalei) and of RS103-110, which may yet be further developed as another variety. Aldo continued assessing Kalei’s performance from 1996 through to 2008. Simon Middleton developed complementary agronomic projects for Kalei from 2003. This work included the evaluation of high density production systems and appropriate tree management for Kalei.
A US Plant Patent was approved in 2009 and Australian Plant Breeder Rights were secured in two parts (2005 and 2011). In 2012, APAL came on board and was officially licensed to commercialise the variety. Through a branding exercise, the variety was named Kalei, which is Hawaiian for ‘lovable’ and it was launched in 2012 with the tag line: ‘Just love that apple’.
DAF, Horticulture Australia Ltd (Hort Innovation’s predecessor) and APAL funded the breeding of Kalei.
During the development phase of Kalei it was tested at four sites across the Australian Pome Fruit Improvement Program (APFIP) network. This, combined with the two decades’ of experience that DAF has developed on growing the variety, means there is some excellent information on the tree’s performance and how to get the most out of it.
“Kalei trees are very productive, easy to manage and can produce large apples,” says Simon. “It is resistant to apple scab or black spot, and it also appears to be tolerant of Alternaria.”
Simon says that the orchard of Kalei trees at the Applethorpe Research Facility are consistently yielding around 80 tonnes per hectare per annum.
“Kalei has a tendency to be a highly productive apple variety,” says Simon. “You don’t have to interfere too much once you have calm, settled trees.
“It tends to be a spreading apple tree so it naturally produces limbs that will come down whether you interfere and tie them down or whether you want to crop them fairly early in the piece and allow the crop to bring the limbs down – because they can do that quite nicely for you.
“We do a bit of limited touch up pruning during the winter and we maintain a strongly vigorous upright leader and let the rootstock do the rest.”
Kalei grown on a dwarfing rootstock like M9 tend to do well, adds Garry.
“It’s a grower friendly tree, it’s quite apically dominant, it grows quite tall and it’s very precocious,” Garry says. “For the first year or two we have to grow the tree before we crop it, otherwise you finish up with very big fruit – but once they are 2-3 years old you can start to crop.”
Kalei tends to be a large apple and Simon recommends tree management focuses on maintaining yields from year to year and suggests that the larger apples should be the target of thinning, not the smaller ones. He also says that growers don’t need to panic if harvest time is approaching but their Kalei apples haven’t developed their trademark colour.
“In our first few years of growing Kalei I used to get quite concerned when you’d feel like you were getting close to harvest and the apples were still a browny yellow colour,” says Simon. “But they colour up very quickly and quite spectacularly in the last seven days.”
He adds that Kalei also stores well in both Controlled Atmosphere and cold storage.
To help orchardists get the best results from their Kalei trees, DAF have developed a Growing Guide for Kalei that was shared with field day attendees. It covers all aspects of production and details everything from site preparation through irrigation, nutrition, orchard design, canopy management, pollination and thinning of the trees at Applethorpe Research Facility, in an effort to demonstrate what management techniques have been most successful there.
There are now around 15 growers across Australia – including Stanthorpe – where local apple grower Daniel Nicoletti has planted about two hectares of Kalei.
“It’s quite an easy tree to grow,” says Daniel. “It has natural spreading branch angles, reasonable vigour and the apples we’ve seen so far seem to not have any russet. It tastes quite nice, is very dense and hard and it’s got a nice flavour. It’s got very good shelf life and it stores very well.”
With growers from Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland attending the field day, the question on all their minds was: What’s the marketing plan for Kalei?
“We have developed Kalei so it looks like a brand”, explains Garry. “It has a byline – ‘Just love that apple’ – colours, and a whole ‘look and feel’ for a sticker.”
“The idea is to promote it as a brand, but actually it is an apple variety with a getup. If we had the chance to do Fuji or Gala another way, we might do it this way and add value to the variety for growers.”
As part of APAL’s commercialisation plan, Garry intends to work cooperatively with all people involved in Kalei – from growers to retailers – to develop regional marketing plans.
“A portion of the per hectare royalty that is collected after year four will be invested into the promotion of Kalei,” explains Garry. “We want to reach a threshold of 70 hectares initially – and we will certainly achieve that – because that’s enough volume to run a promotion program with one of the major retailer or the supermarkets or through a group of high end fruit and vegetable grocers.”
Daniel adds that he hopes that Kalei will become a well-known mainstream variety and that consumers will take it up and it will be very successful.
Kalei apples are expected to be available to Australian consumers in September and October this year – stay tuned via the Kalei apple website.
Australian growers interested in getting some Kalei trees can contact Garry Langford on 03 6266 4344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to the entire team at DAF who hosted the field day and provided additional information to help prepare this article, to Daniel Nicoletti for the interview, to Dino Rizzato for letting us see his Kalei apple orchard as part of the field day, and to APAL’s Garry and Rebekah.