The International New Varieties Network has committed to provide more than $672,000 (400,000 British pounds) over the next six years to support apple and pear rootstock research at East Malling Research in Kent, England.

The emphasis of the program is to breed dwarfing and semidwarfing rootstocks with improved graft compatibility (for pears, in particular); increased precocity and productivity; resistant to fire blight and woolly apple aphid; and enhanced tolerance to replant disease and phytophthora.

Such improvements would be beneficial to both nurseries and fruit growers because of improved tree productivity, longevity, and health, says Pete Van Well of INN member Van Well Nursery based in East Wenatchee, Washington.

East Malling is where, exactly a century ago, Dr. Ronald Hatton took on the task of acquiring and cataloguing the many apple rootstocks found around Europe, and named them after the Malling station. Rootstocks from East Malling’s breeding programs have been used around the globe and are highly regarded, Van Well says.

When they met in Berlin in February this year, INN members agreed to renew their financial support of the Malling research program for another six years. Arrangements were finalized in March between East Malling breeder Feli Fernandez and INN representatives Alessio Martinelli from Italy, Bruno Esser from France, Graham Fleming from Australia, and Uwe Pfeil from Chile.

INN, along with the Horticultural Development Company, a British company that funds research and communicates results to growers, has provided financial and technical support to the East Malling Breeding Club since 2008.

INN is represented by the nurseries Valois, Davodeau Ligonniere, Castang, and Mondial Fruit Selection in France; CIV in Italy; C&O, ProTree, Willow Drive, and Van Well in North America; Viveros Sacramento in Mexico; Andean Nursery Association in Chile; Graham’s FacTree in Australia; Waimea Nurseries in New Zealand; and Stargrow in South Africa.

Together, these nurseries produce more than 15 million trees and 25 million rootstocks annually, and are key players in the propagation of fruit trees for growers around the world, according to Van Well. •