From OMAFRA Research and Innovation News
Science is always at the heart of what growers do. Whether it’s Integrated Pest Management studies, analysis of sprays and treatments or exploration into irrigation methods, there is a form of science at play. Apple growers will be happy to know more science has made its way to their crop of choice in the way of an innovative apple breeding program.
Dr. Daryl Somers, director of applied genomics at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, notes it was a discussion with apple growers in Ontario about refreshing the mix of varieties that started the study in 2011. While BC growers may wonder what apples in Ontario have to do with BC, Somers notes the breeding program is far from province specific.
“Yes, there is an incredibly large market in the Greater Toronto area,” he says. “But we’re not breeding apples just for Ontario, we’re breeding apples for the global market. I think that’s true across Canada.”
In fact, Somers compares the growing region in Niagara to the interior of BC and notes characteristics of apples that grow in both regions will be similar, but there will be slight differences.
“Certainly the BC jurisdiction is an obvious area for apple growing. One would think they [apples] would show the same kind of features in BC,” he says. “The general quality characteristics will carry through, but there are going to be some subtle variations.”
How are those variations achieved? By combining traditional breeding techniques with genetics and sensory science. The DNA of 70 apples are being sequenced and markers are assessed for growing traits (agronomic performance) as well as consumer satisfaction traits.
“Based on our apple sensory profile of attributes such as taste, texture and flavour, we are able to map the human sensory perception and taste experience for apples and identify genetic markers for specific fruit quality consumers prefer,” notes Somers. “These markers are used to accelerate Vineland’s breeding program by focusing on varieties that meet consumers’ preferences.”
Benchmark apples Somers comments on are crisp and juicy like the ambrosia and fuji. The market preference, based on a consumer study conducted by Vineland, found that consumers prefer a fresh red apple flavor over a crisp green apple flavor.
“We certainly want to achieve that kind of quality,” he says. “We’re really very focused on consumer preference and developing high quality apples.”
From trial plantings, 2016 will mark the first year for a significant amount of fruit to study, but as growers know, this is a long-term adventure where it may take up to 12 years to see new varieties become available commercially to growers.
There are 4,000 apple trees planted at Vineland (including heritage varieties dating back to the 1500s) which are partially made up of crosses developed from desirable trait varieties. Plus, 9,000 seedlings were budded onto root stock earlier this year with the choices based on DNA data that indicated good flavor profiles, firmness and better storage characteristics.
“It’s definitely a long-term project,” Somers notes. “We could be doing on-farm trialing in 2024/2023, something like that.”
Trials will be conducted across the country with the goal of 25,000 trees planted for evaluation in coming years. The connection Vineland has to other international variety management programs brings an even more robust set of information to the study.
Get your orchards ready for the coming decades BC; there may be new varieties coming that consumers are clamoring for.
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