Competition among growers to participate in new, managed varieties will be fierce, and they will have to work hard to be involved, says Garry Langford, general manager of the Australian Pome Fruit Improvement Program, Ltd., in Tasmania.
It will require a significant investment in time, money, and expertise on the part of growers.
"What are you prepared to invest in new varieties?" was the title of a talk he gave during the International Fruit Tree Association’s annual conference in Visalia, California, in February.
There are more than 60 breeding programs in the world and many, many new varieties lined up for commercialization. Breeders used to develop apples, pears, and other fruits, and all the return they got was the warm inner glow they felt when someone planted their variety, Langford said. "That doesn’t work any more. That’s long gone."
Pink Lady demonstrated how a branded apple variety could work, and this encouraged others to use a similar model for release of new varieties.
With open varieties, growers could manage the process of adopting new varieties at their own level of risk. They could try out new varieties and see how they were going to work. Commercialization strategies nowadays are more about exclusivity of participants and control of supplies, Langford said.
Though managed varieties are widespread, no single new variety has a production target beyond 0.5 percent of world production (about 300,000 tons). Exclusivity restricts the number of people involved so not everyone gets to try out the apple, and that results in a much faster pathway to market.
It took Cripps Pink 35 years to get to where it is today, he said, and it’s been more than 20 years since Jazz (SciFresh) was developed. The time frame will get shorter still, Langford said. However, new varieties must have enough longevity to provide a return to the grower over a number of years.
Typically, with the managed varieties, the early movers are the only ones in the club. These might be the same growers who have always jumped in first, said Langford.
The information that growers require about new varieties will not come to the farm gate in a package marked "New Variety Opportunities," he said. It will take time, effort, and commitment on the part of the grower to determine whether to be involved in a specific new variety.
Growers need to understand how to assess the opportunities and risks involved. They need to know why they shouldn’t want to be involved in a new variety, as well as why they should.
The first step is for growers to assess their own business capabilities, and answer the following questions:
• What are your existing varieties and how did you access them?
• What percentage of your orchard do you replace annually? How much more could you afford to change if necessary?
• What are your storage capabilities?
• What are your current alliances, if any? How will you go about assessing and making new alliances? Just because you don’t like somebody doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work with them if you can make money, Langford said.
• What are your marketing strategies?
• Where are you located in relation to the markets?
• Do you make your own decisions or will the need to consult with others impact your ability to make a timely choice?
• What areas are you prepared to compromise on in discussions about access to a variety?
Make a pitch
Such an assessment is a necessary process, Langford said. Growers need to be in a position to make the pitch on a variety of interest, and need to know what their capabilities are. The variety owner or manager will want to know as much about the grower as the grower does about them, he warned.
If the opportunity exists to produce a certain volume of a new variety under license, then more questions need to be answered, such as:
• Who is licensing you—the owner, or a licensee?
• Who else is growing it?
• Can you pack it?
• What’s the marketing plan?
• Would this add to your current production or replace some of your existing orchard?
• Can you finance it?
• Is there the opportunity to increase your planting in the future?
"If you’re seriously thinking about new varieties, going through this exercise is a key step," Langford said.
Then, growers need to find out more about the new variety from industry people, meetings or conferences, newsletters, the Internet, journals and researchers.
"The most important thing is you need to head out past the farm gate and across the road," he said. "The information is not going to land in your lap. You need to travel and meet those promoting and licensing the variety."
New variety systems can provide many benefits, though the opportunities will be lessened if they don’t incorporate the discipline to ensure a consistent supply to consumers, he stressed. He expects that the systems will evolve and improve over time. "It’s always been about risk and reward," he concluded. "The same thing applies today."