Washington State nurseries who are members of the International New- Varieties Network are preparing for the release of Rubens in North America. The Gala-Elstar cross was developed in Italy.
When C&O Nursery started in business a century ago, it offered more than 20 different varieties of apples, from Arkansas Black to Yellow Transparent, along with many other types of fruits.
Washington’s tree fruit industry was then in its infancy, shipping 50,000 boxes of fruit in 1906. As it matured, the range of varieties was whittled down to a handful, with Red Delicious accounting for 72 percent of the state’s 50-million-box apple crops in the early 1980s.
In the last two decades, Washington’s apple production has doubled, while Red Delicious has declined to about 33 percent of the crop. Producers are interested in growing new varieties, but the way they’re being introduced is far different from how it was done in the past.
Packers and marketers are involved in the introduction of new fruit varieties, so they can create demand in the marketplace, says Jack Snyder, president of C&O Nursery in Wenatchee, Washington.
Today, for a variety to be successful, a packer and its marketing group must be willing to produce the variety and promote it at the retail level to open up shelf space or take shelf space from something else, he said.
Years ago, nurseries sold trees to growers, and when the trees came into production, the growers took the fruit to the warehouse, Snyder recalled. “The way things are today, you’d better start with the warehouse and the marketing and work backwards. We’re trying to deal with pull varieties, not push varieties in the marketplace.”
Global partnerships are being formed to introduce and promote new varieties through a limited number of producers. C&O is a member of the International New-Varieties Network, which recently changed its name from the International Nursery Network. INN members are searching worldwide for new cultivars—either from breeding programs or mutations of existing cultivars—that have the potential to be successful internationally.
The network’s membership comprises nurseries in Washington State, California, France, Italy, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. Alessio Martinelli of Italy is chair, and Snyder is vice chair.
Having partners in different areas around the globe makes it easier for network members to locate promising new varieties and test them, without each nursery needing to be constantly traveling the world. It also makes it easier to protect the intellectual property rights.
Because of the limited production, club varieties might be in the grocery store for only a few months of the year, but with worldwide sources, they might be brought in from the Southern Hemisphere in the off-season, Snyder said.
Varieties from Italy
International New-Varieties Network members have recently been given the opportunity to grow and sell two new varieties owned by Italian member Consorzio Italiano Vivaisti.
Rubens, a cross of Gala and Elstar, matures about 10 to 15 days after Gala. It is a bicolored apple with a tart-sweet flavor and is similar in size to Gala. About a million trees have been planted in Europe. Production is expected to grow from 1,500 tons last year to 4,000 tons in 2006.
Trees of Rubens are in test plots in Wenatchee, and the network’s U.S. members are starting to produce certified propagation material in preparation for the variety’s release in North America. It was granted a U.S. patent in 2003.
Discussions are under way with grower-packers who might be interested in having the production and marketing rights for Rubens, Snyder said. Once the rights have been assigned, trees will be grown to fill the requirements.
It’s not the nurseries or the people who have the growing or marketing rights who decide how much of a variety will be produced, but the owners, Snyder stressed. It’s likely that Consorzio Italiano Vivaisti will limit plantings of Rubens in North America to between 400 and 800 hectares (1,000 to 2,000 acres).
The other variety is Modi, a cross of Gala and Liberty. Modi is a solid, highly colored apple that matures in the Golden Delicious season and stores well. It is scab resistant and very productive, with fruit larger than Rubens. It is heat tolerant and might be particularly suitable for California conditions, Snyder said. It is being grown in Italy and Brazil.
It’s not feasible, with a club variety, for a nursery to sell trees to an individual grower without having the packer and marketer involved. “You can give the grower the best variety in the world, but if we can’t convince the marketer or packer to handle it, where is it going to go?” Snyder asked.
But, once a packer determines it’s a good variety worth taking to the marketplace, the packer might give its growers an opportunity to produce the variety rather than plant all the acreage in company orchards.
The same concept is being used with other types of tree fruits, including pears, peaches, nectarines, and cherries, Snyder said. “There’s a whole abundance of varieties that we’re evaluating and testing that have come from around the world, and new varieties that we continue to evaluate that are from the United States.”
“What we’re trying to do in the INN is work on varieties that have worldwide acceptance,” he said.
Though there are fewer growers in Washington, tree fruit acreage is still increasing. The shrinking number of small growers and the expansion of large grower-packers means nurseries need to have good working relationships with packers as they introduce new varieties, Snyder said.
“Instead of just being a nurseryman today who goes out and grows a tree, you have to be a good businessman and a good politician, along with having a good product.”