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New variety and rootstock trials to help answer ‘what to plant?’

Research & Extension

By Tom Frankcomb, Operations Manager, APFIP

scab resistant prevar apple batlow stage 3 march 2019

A scab resistant Prevar apple under evaluation in the Batlow Stage 3 site March 2019.

Access to the new pear rootstock Quince Eline®, and new trials of the latest apple and pear varieties and new generation rootstocks, are just some of the exciting activity the Australian Pome Fruit Improvement Program (APFIP) has underway this year to assist growers to lift orchard performance and profitability.

‘What to plant?’ is an increasingly difficult question with more and more new varieties coming onto the market, just as growers grapple with the challenges of climate change and changing customer preferences.

As an industry-owned body, APFIP will be focussing on giving growers access to independent trials of the latest varieties and rootstocks to ensure they can meet these challenges and know what variety to plant, and what rootstock to put it in on.

Delivering a robust certification scheme that gives growers confidence their new trees, budwood or rootstock are clean and free of known viruses, without adding unduly to the cost, will also be a priority.

The key activities of APFIP as we move forward centre around three core themes:

  • evaluation of varieties,
  • evaluation of rootstocks, and
  • certification

New varieties under evaluation

APFIP will be making some changes to the apple and pear variety evaluation service it provides with the aim of enabling growers to be better informed about existing and emerging varieties to make the increasingly complex planting decision.

Trial evaluations will be focused on varieties to suit the changing growing conditions and consumer preferences. APFIP is consulting with variety owners and developing plans to be able to increase grower awareness of these earlier on in the evaluation.

The Australian industry’s shareholding in the trans-Tasman variety commercialisation joint venture Prevar means the industry will have the opportunity to view the newer, more promising varieties from this program at APFIP-managed stage 3 sites in several growing regions. APFIP is planning to facilitate a field day/viewing of several of these sites in the upcoming Autumn.

rico quince ardmona 2019

Rico on Quince A, Ardmona 2019.

Next-gen rootstock trials

APFIP was instrumental in its early years in working with the industry on improving the access to and availability of the certified clean rootstocks that have become widely planted in recent years.

The focus by rootstock breeding programs around the world in recent decades has been upon the selection of rootstocks with improved tolerances or resistances to SARD, crown rot, woolly apple aphid and burr knots.  This “next generation” of apple rootstocks, which includes the CG series from the US, and the JM series from Japan, as well as others, are all in the early stages of being available to industry.

However, no comparative research nor demonstration plantings of these rootstocks exist for all industry participants to view.

APFIP is planning to change this so that these next generation rootstocks will be trialled in a range of growing regions around the country ensuring their performance can be seen by growers.

APFIP has imported and is now the Australian licensee for the Quince Eline® pear rootstock.  This is a new pear rootstock from Fleuren in the Netherlands with improved tolerance to both extremely low and high temperatures relative to Quince C and A. The skin finish on pears grown on Quince Eline is smoother and greener with less russeting /bronzing, and the productivity is greater, than in pears grown on Quince A and C.

We are currently getting the first trees on Quince Eline propagated, to be planted into a trial site in 2020 to further the work that APFIP has previously undertaken with the Pear Rootstocks Trial.

Clean, virus-free and affordable

Industry needs to be confident that the planting material they are using to establish new orchard plantings is true to type and virus free. To ensure this, APFIP is developing new systems and technology to assist growers, variety owners/managers and the nursery sector to access sufficient quantities of certified clean planting material, free of known viruses. APFIP is also studying auditable certification systems successfully established by other tree fruit industries to improve our systems and hence the confidence in the certified status of planting material.

Minimising the additional cost of certification on the already huge investment that growers incur in planting new orchards is a prime consideration by APFIP in improving the certification system.

joe fontanini john sutton dpird apfip wa manjimup stage 3

WA grower Joe Fontanini and John Sutton, DPIRD WA, in the APFIP-DPIRD WA Manjimup stage 3 site.

Grower focus

Engagement and focus with apple and pear growers around the key themes of variety and rootstock evaluation and certification that affect them, and the issues and opportunities associated with these, will be at the forefront for the APFIP operations manager and the APFIP Board this year.

Read more about APFIP and its work on the APAL website under Programs in the main site menu and look out for forthcoming events.

prevar interspecific colour apfip ardmona evaluation february 2019

A Prevar interspecific pear showing plenty of colour in the APFIP Ardmona evaluation site, February 2019.

New era at APFIP

It’s been a very busy 12 months for Tom Frankcomb since taking over the helm at APFIP from long-standing operations manager Mark Hankin, who left in mid-2018 to explore opportunities outside the industry with his family.

Tom, a former Huon Valley apple grower and active industry member, joined the organisation in November 2019 and has spent the last year familiarising himself with APFIP sites and operations, new variety importation processes and travelling the regions meeting growers and stakeholders.

He has been a familiar sight at orchard walks around the country, his passion for the role evident, explaining the importance of certification and gauging what growers want from their industry-owned evaluation sites.

Tom has worked with the APFIP board – Scott Price (Tas), Kevin Sanders and Chris Fairless (Vic), and Greg Mouat (NSW) – to set the future direction for APFIP and ensure its resources and experience can be most effectively used for industry.

As well as the growers, APFIP’s other key stakeholders have played a vital part in this process. They include: APAL and Hort Innovation, as some of the activities of APFIP have been funded by grower levy funds; APFIP certified nurseries; variety owners and breeders such as PREVAR, DPIRD WA and DPIQLD.

About the author:

Tom Frankcomb, Operations Manager, APFIP
M: 0408 503 528



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