It has been virtually certain for two years that the United States government would deregulate the two genetically engineered Arctic apples created by Okanagan Specialty Fruits of Summerland, British Columbia.
With deregulation of Arctic Golden Delicious and Arctic Granny Smith apples announced in February, the company is turning to other varieties.
OSF will submit Arctic Gala and Arctic Fuji for deregulation in the United States sometime within the next year, Neal Carter, company president, told Good Fruit Grower. And this time it expects the review to be more streamlined as it uses the same approach to introduce the non-browning trait in all Arctic varieties.
Good Fruit Grower conducted the following email interview with Carter to learn more about the future of Arctic apples.
Q: How have apple growers responded to the prospect that they might themselves grow these Arctic apples? Your team has talked to growers at several horticulture shows; have growers lined up to plant the trees?
A: There has been excellent response with many growers throughout the United States and Canada expressing interest in planting Arctic apple trees. We have limited trees—roughly 25,000—for 2015 and we are allocating that inventory and lining up orders for 2016 and beyond.
Q: How do you envision Arctic apples coming to market? (If you were to look five years down the road, where might consumers find Arctic apples? Would they be able to identify them easily? How many bushels might be produced each year?)
A: We have interest from members in the apple industry throughout the supply chain from grower to consumer. As fruit comes to market, test marketing will be conducted in all market segments, which will determine market emphasis. It is our plan to double tree plantings each year.
Q: Should Arctic apple growers be concerned for their own safety or the security of their orchards and take measures to keep locations secret or orchards fenced?
A: When it comes to safety, we would certainly not want to take any concerns lightly. However, there are about 18 million farmers growing biotech crops worldwide, and the number of incidents involving crop destruction is very low. Further, when activists have sought to do damage, they have typically opted for high-profile field trials.
Q: Will Arctic apples be available to growers who want just a few trees and may want to buy them through nurseries that cater to backyard growers?
A: At this time, we want to get as many commercial trees in the ground as soon as we can so that we have meaningful quantities to introduce into the market. Down the road, selling smaller numbers of trees may be considered.
Q: How do you think Arctic apples would fare in a direct market situation, commonly used by Eastern U.S. growers?
A: We think Arctic apples would be very well suited to a direct market situation! We’ve repeatedly found that the more consumers learn about Arctic apples, the greater their interest. So, in situations where consumers could purchase Arctic apples directly from the grower and get to know the producer and the product more intimately, we feel their understanding and support would be even greater. In fact, we have several growers who plan to pursue Arctic apple market introduction in this very manner.
Q: Will Arctic apples be offered to growers outside the United States?
A: To date, besides the U.S., we have only applied for Arctic apple approval in Canada. As a small, grower-led company, we must remain focused on the United States and Canada in the short term. Other countries may come into consideration at a later date as we have had inquiries from around the globe wanting us to pursue approval in countries outside of North America.
Q: What kind of growers have shown the most interest, those who might grow large blocks or those who might want just a few?
A: Interest in Arctic apples comes from all sectors of the apple supply chain, including small to large growers. We’ve heard from retailers wanting samples, fresh-cut operators wanting to try Arctic apples in their operations, and from consumers and hobby orchardists who just think Arctic apples are cool and would love one or two trees for themselves!
Q: Who are your investors, how much have they invested, and when do they expect a payback?
A: We have around 40 individual shareholders, many from the agriculture and tree fruit industries. We are fortunate that many have a great deal of industry experience and are patient enough to realize that our strategy is, and has been, a long-term one.
Q: What other traits are you working on and in what fruits?
A: Our small team must stay quite focused on ensuring the successful market introduction of Arctic apples in the short term, though we do have a number of exciting projects in the pipeline including apples resistant to fire blight, apple scab, and apple scald. We also know we can silence browning in other tree fruits.
Q: How will OSF’s purchase by Intrexon affect plans to commercialize the Arctic varieties?
A: Okanagan Specialty Fruits’ commercialization plans remain unchanged, as does the company’s leadership, commitment to transparency, open communication, and mission to develop value-added tree fruit varieties. Arctic apples will remain OSF’s flagship product and central focus in the near-term. •
After growing up on a Michigan dairy farm, Richard Lehnert began writing about farming in 1962, while still a junior studying journalism at Michigan State University. He worked at newspapers for a year before joining the staff of Michigan Farmer, where he spent 26 years, the last 15 as chief editor. He was a member of the staff of Good Fruit Grower from 2010 until 2015.
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