By Lilian Schaer for AgInnovation Ontario
The Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland), driven by demand from nurseries and grape growers, is leading the charge to find new table grape varieties for the Ontario market.
To date, Ontario’s main homegrown fresh table grape is Sovereign Coronation, a semi-seedless blue grape that’s ready for market over a six to eight week period in late summer and early fall.
“It’s challenging to have such a short season with only one variety. That’s what led growers and nurseries to ask if there is anything else out there that could extend their season and provide retailers with different grapes,” explains Michael Kauzlaric, Technology Scout and Grower Outreach at Vineland.
That demand by Ontario grape growers prompted Vineland to begin scouting for varieties that could grow well in Ontario’s climate as well as meet taste, quality and appearance needs.
That means a seedless, sweet and crunchy fruit on a good sized bunch than can be offered to consumers at a reasonable price.
“We’ve been searching areas that have a similar climate to Canada because we need something that is easy to grow and cold tolerant and fits with the current infrastructure our growers are dealing with,” he says. “Something that matures in November, for example, won’t be a good candidate in Ontario.”
In 2014, Vineland brought in and planted certified virus-free budwood from six U.S. seedless grape cultivars – three green and three blue. The vines produced their first real fruit crops for evaluation this year.
There’s one variety in particular that has caught the attention of the Ontario Fresh Grape Growers as well as retailers, according to Kauzlaric, and discussions are now underway about how to best proceed with further varietal testing.
The program is limited by the amount of certified disease-free budwood that is available for the Canadian market, he says, as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will not permit the industry to import budwood that haven’t been certified as free of disease.
The earliest Canadian consumers could see any of the new varieties on the shelf would be 2019, but Kauzlaric suggests 2020-2025 as a more realistic timeframe.
“Retailers have been very supportive of this project. The category managers have come out, tasted the grapes and shown interest in these varieties. This pulls the industry forward because we already have a buyer for the product who is interested in supporting the Ontario industry and provide local product to consumers,” he says.
Another five varieties are currently at the CFIA Centre for Plant Health Laboratory in British Columbia undergoing virus clean up so that disease-free budwood can be brought to Ontario next spring for planting, bringing the Vineland test block up to 11 selections.
This project is funded in part by Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, through the AgriInnovation Program. Additional support is provided by Ontario Tender Fruit Growers, Ontario Fresh Grape Growers, Vinetech Canada Inc. and University of Guelph.