For nearly 20 years the Australian Pome Fruit Improvement Program (APFIP) has been working to increase productivity across the apple and pear industry by getting better quality varieties to growers faster. As the current project looks to wrap up and move to its next stage, we get an update on the project’s work from an independent review of the program.
Since it was established in 1997, APFIP has aimed to help increase apple and pear orchard productivity through the delivery of the three core aims: more efficient and effective quarantine processes; delivering better varieties through a national variety evaluation program; and improving tree health through the certification of propagating material.
APFIP is funded through a portion of the apple research and development levy that has been set aside to specifically fund the APFIP program and has been managed alongside the apple and pear research and development and marketing levies.
A 2014 independent review of APFIP by Bryan Whan noted that the program had been highly successful in meeting its objectives of helping growers and improving productivity. This article summarises the findings of that report.
APFIP has played an instrumental role in the introduction of new quarantine protocols and technologies that have reduced the time required in quarantine for imported apple and pear planting stock from four years to less than 18 months.
“Due to the development of more efficient screening techniques for material coming into Australia, the post entry quarantine time has been reduced even further to only 12 months for apples,” says Mark Hankin, APFIP Operations Manager.
This ensures growers get faster access to new and more profitable varieties allowing the industry to more effectively compete with overseas producers because new varieties can be adopted more quickly. It has also boosted the attractiveness of Australia to international variety owners as a destination to commercialise their varieties because quarantine processes are less burdensome.
Better quarantine processes have also reduced the threat of the introduction of exotic pests and diseases. Moreover, the direct involvement of APFIP in the Post Entry Plant Industries Consultative Committee (PEPICC) provides an insurance that the rigour of quarantine is maintained, and that immediate action is possible if there ever is an outbreak of an exotic disease.
A key improvement to the quarantine process was the introduction of active testing for many of the exotic pests where previously just passive testing by way of observation was the testing protocol. Now there is both observation and active testing.
APFIP remains a member of the PEPICC in the interest of the Australian Industry and continues to work with and build relationships with international breeding programs so there is a steady stream of new varieties of apple and pears being evaluated in Australia.
The latest releases for evaluation were in October 2015 with a new apple variety and a Quince rootstock for pear production, which is being widely used throughout Europe for its fruit finish benefits and its ability to be grafted direct to some varieties without an interstem to control pear decline. APFIP is taking delivery of two more international varieties in April 2016 from Post Entry Quarantine.
APFIP has established variety observation trials in each of the major production areas in Australia to assess potential new varieties from breeding work in Australia and overseas.
The APFIP evaluation program provides an independent assessment of apples and pears helping variety owners identify where their variety performs best. It also helps growers make more informed decisions about what variety to select for their growing region, including not choosing varieties unsuited to their region.
A major benefit of the APFIP evaluation is its independence, a significant feature in the current environment where almost all varieties are being delivered through commercial enterprises that are driven by achieving large market shares and profits.
There have been 131 apple and 66 pear cultivars evaluated since the program commenced for 27 variety owners.
Some examples of varieties that have been assessed include the two new red-blushed pears bred by the Victorian government and commercialised by APAL: ANP-0131 (to be marketed as Deliza®) and ANP-0118 (to be marketed as Lanya®). Apples have included Kalei, Fiero Fuji, ANABP 01 (the new DAFWA apple), and the PREVAR varieties that have been released including Smitten®, Honeymoon® and PIQA®Boo®.
Mark adds that as new variety opportunities come to the industry, growers need to ask variety owners, licensees or commercialisation companies if that variety has been in the APFIP evaluation program and if so, what data is available.
APFIP has implemented a certification system for rootstock and trees that enables growers to access new propagating material that is free of the most detrimental viruses, is true to type, and meets prescribed standards.
A low level of plant health has been one reason why the Australian industry has never been able to match the yield per hectare of international competitors. Certified APFIP material is free of apple stem pitting virus, apple stem grooving virus, apple mosaic virus and apple chlorotic leaf spot virus.
Using virus-free varieties and rootstock helps protect the Australian industry from the losses associated with these viruses. Virus-free trees can out-yield infected trees by 40 to 56 per cent. However, the industry uses a more conservative general benchmark that shows the use of certified propagating material free from known viruses can result in up to a 20 per cent increase in orchard productivity.
Certification also delivers planting material that is true to type meaning orchardists will get consistent trees across their orchard. A uniform orchard helps to increase production and reduce costs through more efficient pruning and picking operations. Some growers regard this as a critical benefit of using certified propagating material.
Moreover, trees produced from APFIP-certified propagules are higher yielding and fruit earlier than non-certified material, a major ‘free’ bonus for growers buying such trees. High quality certified trees will come into production quicker.
“Certification of plant material is a key process that industry should adopt,” says Mark. “The benefits from studies worldwide show that increased tree performance and fruit yield pack out equate to more dollars per hectare from planting certified material over non-certified.”
APFIP now has major nurseries as well as individual growers as APFIP Certified Licensees – a list of certified nurseries is available on the APAL website. All these identities are developing certified stoolbeds and producing certified trees.
“Growers need to start asking about certified nursery trees when next talking to their nursery,” Mark adds.
A lot has changed in the time APFIP has been operating, with many more commercial players interested in varietal development, a reduction in state-based breeding programs, and a much more vibrant global apple marketing and branding environment linked to new varieties.
The current APFIP project funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd is due for completion in June 2016, so the team at APAL that manages APFIP are looking at how the program can continue to contribute into the future.
“The new project will be built around the review findings and recommendations,” explains Mark. “APFIP will continue to deliver its core responsibilities along with continuing to build on the success of our tree procurement service helping growers close the gap with nurseries when planning new investment.”
This report has been based on the Independent Review of APFIP undertaken by Bryan Whan in 2014 and additions from the APFIP team.
APFIP is managed and implemented by APAL and is funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd using the apple and pear industry levy funds from growers and matching funds from the Australian Government.