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Del Feigal, manager of Auvil Fruit Company’s ranch at Vantage, Washington, is testing the B.C. variety Aurora.

Del Feigal, manager of Auvil Fruit Company’s ranch at Vantage, Washington, is testing the B.C. variety Aurora.

The British Columbia apple industry is launching promotional and marketing programs this season for the Aurora Golden Gala apple, a variety that is consistently rated higher than all other varieties in taste panels. “Aurora will give consumers a great eating experience. We know that from talking to anyone who’s eaten it,” Ken Haddrell, operations manager of the Okanogan Plant Improvement Company (PICO), said during the annual B.C. Hort Forum in Penticton, Canada. “This is probably the best-eating apple in the world.”

The variety was developed at the Pacific Agri Food Research Centre in Summerland, British Columbia, and named in 2003. Small acreages have been planted in British Columbia—enough to produce a total of 4,000 boxes this season. It is also being tested in other parts of the world, including Washington, and has a strong following in Ontario, where a tester reported that the variety had better eating quality than Honeycrisp, Haddrell said.

Aurora, a cross of Splendour and Gala, is a pale yellow apple that also has outstanding storability. Haddrell said it can be held in regular storage for six months.

The tree is less vigorous than Gala and has flat branch angles. The canopy should be developed before the tree is cropped, otherwise it will stop growing. The mature tree is spurry and productive and bears annually. It blooms before Gala and Spartan and requires chemical thinning. Fruit set is high.

“The single most critical step to high-quality fruit is thinning,” Haddrell stressed. “It’s an extremely productive tree. Overcropped trees will produce small, green fruit, and it will bruise when it’s green.”

Hand thinning should be completed no later than July, with the fruit spaced eight inches apart. The fruit matures evenly, so the variety requires no more than two picks. In test plots in Summerland, it matures at the end of September or the first week in October, about 145 to 155 days after king bloom. The fruit should be harvested when it is a soft yellow color, Haddrell said. “Bright orange is not good, and green is bad.”

A steering committee that PICO has set up is considering contracting with a person to advise growers on pruning, thinning, harvest, and other cultural practices in order to produce the variety at its optimum quality. It might need to be harvested in partial bins to avoid bruising.

PICO has contracted with Colleta Consultants, Ltd., of Vancouver, to create marketing materials and set up promotional events, and B.C. Tree Fruits launched targeted marketing of the variety this season.

Nicola

Nicola, a Splendour-Gala cross with exceptional shelf life, was also developed at Pacific Agri Food Research Centre and released by PICO in 2004. It’s a large, bicolored apple that matures after Fuji.

“But the one most distinguishing feature is it probably is the longest storing of any variety I have ever seen,” Haddrell reported.

It does not lose its flavor or texture in storage, and flavor is enhanced by up to three months of storage. No significant disorders have been reported.

The apple is 80 to 90 percent red over a cream background and may suffer some stem-bowl russet. It requires no more than two picks. Fruit size is similar to Fuji.

The tree is moderately vigorous with flat branch angles. It blooms late and produces a moderate crop of large apples annually. It’s not yet known what pollinizer would be the most suitable or what the chemical thinning regime should be, Haddrell said.

A total of about 30 acres have been planted for testing. Production this season was less than a hundred cartons.