A group of Canadian apple researchers, growers and marketers have joined forces to give one of Canada’s oldest and most famous fruit crops some new crunch in the marketplace.
Members of the National Apple Breeding Consortium say advances in the science of apple breeding and more efficient orchard designs are making it possible to bring new varieties more quickly to market to capitalize on consumer interest in apples with unique tastes and textures, while giving growers varieties that are more resistant to disease and insects.
Premium varieties like Gala, Honeycrisp and Ambrosia and high-density orchards helped the Canadian apple industry post its first increase in acreage in decades in 2016.
Taking a page from wine grapes, the consortium believes more regions of Canada could become renowned for their own unique apple varieties.
"It’s not necessarily about creating a new apple that can be grown across the country. It’s about finding that variety and that local growing environment that together produce a quality that you won’t find anywhere else," says Joyce Boye, science director for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s research centres in Agassiz and Summerland in British Columbia.
The consortium was created late last year to streamline apple development in Canada and boost returns to the industry and increase consumer satisfaction.
"The consortium allows key players in Canadian apple breeding to work more closely together and that’s a win-win for all involved," says Brian Gilroy, president of the Canadian Horticultural Council and an apple grower himself.
Genome Atlantic, Genome BC and Ontario Genomics also helped drive the creation of the consortium. The associations encourage the combination of biology, genetics and computer science to create economic opportunities in the resource and health sectors.
"Over the last three years, Genome Atlantic has been working hard with all the stakeholders to develop this consortium, and we are very pleased that it is now in place," says Richard Donald, a business development associate with Genome Atlantic. "With everyone pulling together, research will be shared across Canada, accelerating the development of new apple varieties suited to different regions of the country."
In the past, it took up to 25 years to develop a new apple variety and orchards were dominated by large trees that were difficult to pick. Today, gene sequencing is allowing apple breeders to find and select the traits they want much more quickly.
At the same time, growers are increasingly turning to high-density orchards featuring dwarf trees that are much easier to harvest.
Consortium members include Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Dalhousie University, Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, Summerland Varieties Corporation, Réseau d’essais de cultivars et porte-greffes de pommiers du Quebec, and the Canadian Horticultural Council. Also represented are a number of major grower associations, including the Ontario Apple Growers Association, the BC Fruit Growers Association, Les Producteurs de pommes du Quebec and Scotian Gold Cooperative Ltd.
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