Plzeň, Czech Republic. During the Soviet era, historic buildings were neglected and functional apartments were built.

Plzeň, Czech Republic. During the Soviet era, historic buildings were neglected and functional apartments were built.

The Czech Republic has a relatively modest apple industry, but is one of the most active countries in terms of developing new disease-resistant apple varieties. More than 50 new apple cultivars have been bred in the Czech Republic in the past two decades.

Many of those varieties are still under test, but some are attracting the attention of fruit industries around the world. The scab-resistant, sweet-tart apple Topaz is already widely grown in Europe, along with older Czech varieties such as Sampion (pronounced Shampion), Rubin, and Bohemia.

Newer varieties showing promise include Red Topaz, and two Topaz-Golden Delicious crosses called Opal and Luna.

Low yield

The Czech Republic has 8,750 hectares (21,600 acres) of apple orchard, producing about 157,000 tons of fruit—just 1.5 percent of European apple production.

The average yield per hectare is 18 tons (equivalent to 18 bins per acre), Vaclav Koběluš of the Czech Fruit Growers Union told IFTA members. That figure seems low, he said, but it’s the average yield from the many old orchards in the Czech Republic that produce only perhaps five or ten tons per hectare, and more recent plantings that produce 40 or 50 tons per hectare or more, as well as new orchards that have yet to come into production. Almost half the country’s orchards are old.

Most of the apples produced in the Czech Republic are consumed in that country. Koběluš said prices for apples are usually strong between harvest and May, with the grower receiving between 1.0 and 1.4 euros per kilo (59 to 83 U.S. cents per pound), but prices drop in the summer when imports from Germany and Italy come on to the market.

The Czech tree fruit industry is made up of many small growers, some with only a hectare of orchard, and just a few larger operations in the 200 to 250-hectare (500- to 600-acre) range.

The IFTA group visited an orchard near Brno owned by the Zemos company, which has 170 hectares (420 acres) of apple, pear, and apricot orchard, along with 2,500 hectares (more than 6,000 acres) of other crops, such as wheat, corn, and grapes.

Former collective

Before 1996, the company used vigorous rootstocks and old-fashioned training systems. Since then, it has been replanting about 10 hectares (25 acres) each year using trees on the dwarfing Malling 9 rootstocks and modern training systems with trees 0.9 to 1.2 meters (3 to 4 feet) apart and 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) between rows.

Until two years ago, the company was owned by the 900 people who worked on the farm when it was a collective under the socialist regime, said Roman Loskot, head of Zemos’s fruit growing division. After democratization in 1989, the workers continued to operate the farm as owners.

Last year, they sold the company to an individual who has many thousands of acres of farm in the Czech Republic and is one of the country’s richest people, Loskot said. The owner planned to buy two more orchards in the near future, increasing the total farm operation to 6,000 hectares (15,000 acres).

The main apple varieties produced at the orchard include Golden Delicious, Idared, Jonagold, and Gala. "Customers are old fashioned mostly, so they’re wanting old varieties that they know and the new varieties are arriving very slowly and the volume is going up very slowly," Loskot explained.

Sampion is popular because it is productive, easy to grow, and has good flavor. However, in the warmer growing regions of the country, where it doesn’t color well, Sampion is being replaced by Gala.

The Czech Republic has 155 nurseries, most of which produce small numbers of trees. Fytos, located at Plzen, is the country’s largest nursery. About 95 percent of its trees are sold in the Czech Republic, but it has begun exporting to Germany, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, and has even shipped trees to North Korea to help improve that country’s food production.