Chile apple breeders hope for new variety release in 2017

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Chile apple breeders hope for new variety release in 2017

The Chilean Agricultural Research Institute (INIA) is developing its own apple variety that is hoped will hit the market in five years, as a response to the increasing exclusivity of club varieties.

Agronomist and breeding program director Pablo Grau, tells the global intellectual property system has changed for the worse over the last 15 years.

He highlights growers could previously just pay a royalty and trade the varieties in various foreign markets, but limitations have now been put on competing countries.

"With globalization and competition with other countries, this has led to the club varieties concept, where access is restricted to interested countries and only those who the owners of the license determine are invited," he says.

He says New Zealand is one example where apple varieties have been developed but the owners don't want Chile entering their markets too a significant extent, so Chile is not invited to the point where it can be a serious competitor.

Through restrictions on planted hectares, the number of growers and the number of plants per grower, Grau said the Chilean fruit industry has been in danger, which led to calls for government support seven years ago, spurring breeding programs with grapes, stonefruit, raspberries, blueberries and cherries.

New apple variety development

INIA's apple breeding program began in 2009 in conjunction with the Universidad Católica de Chile, funded by state organization CORFO and the Horticultural Industry Consortium.

Grau says the program involves improving the postharvest aspects of the fruit, improve its quality and resistance to Venturia Inaequalis, which causes apple scab.

He says the project finishes in 2014 but of course "breeding work never ends", striving for a distinctly "Chilean apple" that meets international market requirements in terms of adaptation, taste, color and form, as well as a lower sensitivity to postharvest disorders.

Pablo Grau

"This attribute [lower sensitivity] isn't generally demanded in an apple variety in the breeding programs of developed countries, because the time between harvest and consumption is much lower than ours.

"Before this work started we went to see breeding programs around the world in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, and in general postharvest quality doesn't interest them."

The researcher says consumer tastes are changing with aspects such as attractive color, juiciness and crunchiness as fundamental aspects.

Every year the program, currently taking place in seven localities across Chile, evaluates between 12,000-14,000 hybrids, choosing those with the best characteristics and then moving those apples to commercial properties where they can grow alongside existing varieties; in this way comparisons can be made.

"An evaluation program at the stage of advanced selections generally takes four to five years in the field. Probably, if something comes out of the material, then in the years 2016 or 2017 we could have a new Chilean variety.

"It is the first time breeding has been done in Chile, as everything that is grown at the moment, no matter what species, is a foreign variety."

He adds that with this Chile could then be in a position to license its own varieties to growers abroad, while the fruit itself will need to be "a good traveller".

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