A new project aims to capitalise on the known production benefits of planting apple and pear trees certified under the Australian Pome Fruit Improvement Program (APFIP) by identifying ways to increase their adoption and investigating a more self-sustaining certification system.
In 2016, the previous APFIP project wrapped up and a new project was established. Now, in its 20th year, APFIP has the same three core aims to help increase apple and pear orchard productivity by supporting 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.
But, in the latest project, there is a fresh focus on identifying a financially independent and sustainable certification system and on boosting industry adoption of certified material by nurseries and growers.
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 is managed by Hort Innovation.
Alternative certification program model
APFIP has, via previous projects, developed a certification system for both apple and pear propagation material. The system is largely based on the very successful European Union certification system. However, whereas the EU system is operated under government regulation, the APFIP system is via a certification trade mark owned by APFIP and used under licence by nurseries in Australia.
“We are currently continuing delivery of the existing APFIP certification program but we want to look at feasible alternatives that, after three years, could be independently funded and not reliant on industry levies,” says APFIP operations manager Mark Hankin. “To do this we really need to understand whatt industry wants and what would best support the industry.”
The new project will consult widely with industry to gather input via an industry seminar and through a survey and interviews.
“We want to identify how else can the main apple and pear nurseries, especially those currently not involved, be included in certification without derogating the benefits of certification itself,” says Mark. “We will also consider what is done in other countries and how that work is funded and look at, for example, the role accreditation under a nursery industry quality assurance scheme could play in tree certification.”
In particular, the project aims to reveal if there are perceived or real risks around the use of the virus status claim ‘tested negative to known viruses’ and if this affects uptake.
The term ‘virus free’ is often used in conjunction with plant certification. This poses some risks to nurseries that produce trees as there are many viruses that infect pome fruit. The APFIP system is based on ‘tested negative for known viruses’. This narrowing of the risk does not diminish the tree quality but provides security for tree suppliers from issues related to a blanket claim regarding virus status.
Certification of pears
In the new APFIP project, pear certification is a new focus, including the provision of virus-free pear propagules (rootstocks and scions) and the promotion of the benefits of growing certified pear trees.
“Several pear rootstock and scion varieties have already been tested negative for known viruses,” says Mark. “Accordingly, there is nothing holding back certification of pears, other than industry attitudes towards certification in general.”
The project will look at promoting the value of certified material through a planned certified pear demonstration site in the Goulburn Valley.
Ongoing communications of APFIP’s work will continue via all APAL’s core communications channels, including Australian Fruitgrower magazine, Industry Juice e-newsletter, and APAL’s website and social media accounts.
Updates on certification, demonstration sites located in the Huon Valley (Tasmania), Stanthorpe (Queensland), and Lenswood (South Australia) will be reported on regularly. These reports will be accompanied by a field day later in the project at the Goulburn Valley site once it bears fruit.