Breeders in New Zealand have developed two promising late-season apricot varieties that have fared well in taste panels with Chinese consumers and have a longer shelf life than standard cultivars.
The varieties, which are yet to receive brand names and are currently known as Nzsummer2 and 3, have so far been released in limited volumes over the last couple of years to a few growers.
They were developed by public organization Plant and Food Research and co-funded by industry body Summerfruit NZ.
Plant and Food Research’s science division business manager Declan Graham told Fresh Fruit Portal that the varieties’ history can be traced back to the early 2000s when a grower discovered a late mutation on one of their fruits.
“It was actually a Plant and Food variety, so we put that pollen across a lot of different plants that had good characteristics and from that we ended up with one plant that had a particularly good clean fruit look about it,” he said.
As well as the late harvesting period, Graham said a key characteristic of the new varieties was that they were low-ethylene, meaning they are able to keep their firmness for a long time.
“In fact they can retain their eating quality firmness at 20ºC for up to two weeks,” he said.
The breeders later assessed how the cultivars performed with various rootstocks, following which they were put through an evaluation program. Over the last three years or so they were able to do the work around post-harvest and related issues.
“We’re very confident that they’re now ready to be commercialized, and we’ve started to get some grower uptake of the varieties which is really good,” he said.
Graham explained a large amount of New Zealand’s apricot exports were shipped to Australia, arriving right after the domestic season wraps up around later December or early January, but he added the industry was seeing growing demand in the more distant Asian market.
“In order to be able to satisfy demand you need something that tastes good, with good sweetness and texture, and with these particular varieties we’ve done a lot of work over the last two years with Chinese consumers,” he said.
“So as a result of that we know the type of fruit they like in particular and the type of firmness characteristics that they want. With these new varieties we can provide that.”
The varieties are harvested around February, a time when there are very low volumes of apricots being exported from the Southern Hemisphere. Graham said that this, combined with good eating quality and shelf life, meant they should prove to be profitable for New Zealand growers.
While they have only seen a limited release so far, Graham expected brand names to be created in the next year or so, after which time Summerfruit NZ would market the varieties in larger quantities.
“It’s a bit of a long-term process,” he said.
“In New Zealand there’s been a lot of interest in planting cherries in the same geographies, so what we’re suggesting is these new apricots could be a very good alternative and a highly lucrative summer fruit to grow.”
Photos: Courtesy of Plant and Food Research