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Laimburg Research Center's Daniele Bona, left, shows the differences between high and low elevation in their variety trials.

Laimburg Research Center’s Daniele Bona, left, shows the differences between high and low elevation in their variety trials.

Golden Delicious is the major variety grown in the South Tyrol, but a slow shift to newer varieties and improved clones of traditional ones is taking hold. In the last four years, planting trend data show an increase in the exclusive Kanzi variety, Granny Smith, and Golden ­Delicious, but a decline in Fuji, Braeburn, Gala, Pinova, and Red Delicious.

Last year, according to Kurt Werth, director of the variety innovation consortium known as SK, grower prices were highest for Pink Lady at $0.32 to 0.41 per pound; second highest for Fuji, $0.25 to 0.32 per pound; and lowest for Braeburn, around $0.12 per pound.

In his role at SK, Werth collaborates with the region’s research and extension centers to test hundreds of new apple varieties and sports. He directs the evaluation of field data, fruit quality information ­collected during postharvest storage, and consumer preference data, working closely with the grower cooperatives as they choose which exclusive and open varieties to pack and market.

“My main job is to help growers avoid planting the wrong new variety,” Werth said. Growers have hundreds of varieties to pick from but little data to guide them. “There were about 100 new varieties on display at the Interpoma show,” he said.

Though Pink Lady has been grown for more than a decade, managed varieties are just beginning to show up in the region. About 400 acres were recently contracted with ENZA to plant Jazz, an exclusive variety. Although prices for managed varieties like Pink Lady are three times higher than Golden Delicious, joining the club world has been difficult for South Tyrolean growers. For example, only 500,000 trees of Kanzi have been planted in the region out of 4.5 million trees in the Kanzi program, Werth said.

SK spent five years attempting to trademark a new Pinova strain, known as Roho 3615, that was developed by an Italian nursery. SK wanted to trademark the strain in the retail market as Evelina. But they could not receive a trademark because of retailer opposition. Retailers ­didn’t want to promote an existing variety, albeit a new strain, with a new name.

Laimburg variety testing

The Laimburg Research Center, located near Bolzano, also has an extensive variety testing program. The variety selection program, led by Daniele Bona, involves the testing of some 500 different varieties and clones planted in two orchard sites with elevations of 660 and 2,150 feet. Selections are observed for five to six years, with data ­collected on phenology, fruit quality, yield, and storage. Golden Delicious, Italy.

Laimburg also houses a fruit breeding program and tests 2,000 new selections each year. Of thousands of selections tested, four have been studied for about 15 years and are entering the final evaluation phase of being planted in greater number to gather additional ­information.

Club varieties that have been planted in South Tyrol in recent years include Pink Lady (1,400 acres), Jazz (300 acres), Kanzi (250 acres), and Modi (140 acres).

Bona’s program has a major emphasis on testing strains or sports of Gala and Fuji. With 30 different clones of Gala available in Italy, it’s hard to find the best one to recommend to growers, he said. They work closely with SK to identify profitable varieties.

After a rapid increase in Fuji acreage from 2000 to 2005, a lot of Fuji were removed because of biennial bearing problems and depressed grower prices. But in the last few years, interest in Fuji has picked up and growers are looking to plant better-colored strains.

About 150 scab-resistant varieties are under trial, and five selections have been identified for further testing. Many of the resistant varieties have not required spraying for scab in the trials.

Golden Delicious has been the variety standard, Bona explained. It is popular with growers because it’s easy to grow, very productive, and growers like the mid-­September picking date. However, he thinks growers are now interested in planting new varieties like Kanzi (Nicoter cultivar). Kanzi has done well in their trials, and the ­harvest dates are near Golden Delicious.