AIGN meeting breeds confidence for fruit variety introduction in China
Shennong Variety Management (SVM) director John Morton hopes the early success of the Reddy Robin pear (PremP109, previously known as 'Papple') in China will serve as an example of what can be achieved for overseas-bred varieties through strong partnerships in the country.
SVM is the Associated International Group of Nurseries' (AIGN) representative in China, and is owned by Chinese fresh produce powerhouse Joy Wing Mau and Chile-based Global Licensing Ltda (GLA), as well as New Zealand-based companies John Morton Ltd and Fresh NZ.
The AIGN held its annual general meeting (AGM) in China in late May, showing members how the industry had changed since a previous visit seven years ago, as well as explaining intellectual property protection law in China and showing how to develop production from importing plant material through to commercialization.
"They were just impressed. They saw huge changes from what they saw back in 2010," Morton tells Fresh Fruit Portal.
"One visit can sometimes give you false impressions – you need to come back more than once and probably more than twice to really appreciate what China is all about.
"They saw how SVM had developed over time, how China had changed but how SVM had established relationships which probably weren’t existing back in 2010, and that gave them great confidence that they could take material to China and feel that they could develop their products in China as they do in any other part of the world."
In pome fruit he said visitors could see how the Chinese industry had progressed from the impression many people have of farms that only yield 10-15 metric tons (MT) per hectare, developing modern orchards comparable to the highest global standards.
"Then we finally introduced them to our commercial partner which is Joy Wing Mau, and they are a commercial partner which gives us flexibility to be able to sell our product either open release or through a managed program, which is what a lot of plant breeders are now insisting," he says.
"We looked at their operation, distribution centers, and that completed the picture from beginning to the end. We also went to a research station which we were involved with in the import of plant material, and demonstrated the process in doing so," he said, clarifying the nursery was Shanghai-based Orisis International.
"I think there is a maturity about the need to engage with all territories – be it India, which is another possibility in the future, China and so forth – for intellectual property protection...if you don’t engage with them you’ve got that risk of losing control within a territory because you never took out your option to protect it."
Reddy Robbin ready for growth
As China is the world's largest consumer of Asian-style pears, Morton says developing the Reddy Robbin was an obvious choice.
Building on existing production in New Zealand and development in Australia and the U.S., there are now also 10 hectares of the fruit planted as a trial in the southern Yunnan province.
"With the fruit from that we’ve got confidence to go forward," Morton says.
"Many of the pears that are currently grown [in China] grown are sweet and flavorsome but they are the standard green-yellow parents, so with the Reddy Robin coming into the market it’s providing something that’s more attractive.
"The flavor has been reported as sweeter and we think it’s a step forward with that product range."
He says the Chinese domestic development for the pear is complemented by counter-seasonal supply from New Zealand.
"Fruit from New Zealand was sent to China this year with the hope to assist in developing that market so they can demonstrate the product in the market, get consumer feedback, and hopefully if it's successful then develop their own production.
"The Southern Hemisphere is always going to be challenged to produce enough to meet a year-round supply – I more think it’s going to assist and complement, because the volume of fruit that China consumes is just vast."
While SVM is open to considering production in other parts of China, for the moment it is sticking to what works for the moment.
"What's going to be paramount is you can’t just go to China and put a rootstock or variety or selection in the ground and it expect it to grow and perform," Morton says.
"It’s a huge country and it’s got a diverse range of growing conditions – another part of what we’re doing is taking quite a while to find and establish territories in the area that are similar to where we produce in Hawke’s Bay [New Zealand].
"One area that is certainly working for us is the Yunnan province, and that’s got high elevation, temperature variation, and we’re seeing product that’s very similar to what we’d would expect to see in New Zealand – we’re getting the color, the flavor and the productivity."
He says that the market of Yunnan itself also means it's "not a bad starting point" for trialing new varieties.
"You can get tempted to try and conquer the whole of China and that’s just impossible. When you consider Yunnan, it’s got about 46 million people – twice the size of the population of Australia," he adds.
While much of the focus right now is bringing new varieties to China, the partnership is a two-way street and growers around the world also stand to benefit for new varieties coming out of China's research stations.
"The key here is we’ve built a relationship with a number of universities and institutes and companies over a period of time, and once you instill their trust they’re quite happy to share their intellectual property with you.
"SVM is representing a number of breeding programs on behalf of Chinese universities and institutes, and SVM globally are going to be representing them.
"If we think there’s commercial opportunity for the product they’ve developed and we feel they can work with us, then there could be a range of crops."
He adds next year's AIGN AGM is set to take place in New Zealand.