Good Fruit Grower

June 1

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Page 16 of 47 GOOD FRUIT GROWER JUNE 2014 17 P robably the most sought-after apple tree right now is a Royal Red Honeycrisp budded on a Geneva 935 rootstock. Get in line and be pre- pared to wait four to five years. That's the assessment made by Wanda Heu- ser Gale, who works for Lawrence, Michigan-based Sum- mit Tree Sales and is president of International Plant Management. The companies work with nurseries in helping them identify and develop promising new vari- eties and with growers to help them procure trees from nurseries. "Nurseries are pretty well booked up to 2017," she said. "I see no signs of it abating," she said of the apple tree planting boom that has been going for several years now. "There are no real signs, just a few whispers," as some growers worry that the wonderful new varieties that have fueled the planting fever may be overplanted. Gale sees no real sign of that happening either. "Are there too many Honeycrisp? We're nowhere near that," she says, answering her own question. But demand for the original Honeycrisp apple has fallen off as new, redder strains have been discovered. Growers in the West have especially spurred demand for redder strains of Honeycrisp—the Royal Red from Willow Drive Nursery, which Gale calls "the best so far of three or four redder strains," but also Firestorm from Cameron Nursery. Growers in the upper Midwest are able to get good color on the original Honeycrisp, but in warmer climates like the West, it's more difficult. Even though the new strains don't seem to contain improvements other than color, the eye appeal wins out. Red Honeycrisp is "the big red elephant in the room," she said. "The market always goes redder," she added. "Grow- ers who get a redder packout get better money. That's a fact." While she says she has no hard numbers on trees being bought and planted, she guesses that Honeycrisp is probably the best seller now, edging out Gala. "Demand for Gala is still huge," she said. Part of the demand explosion is caused by growers planting four times as many trees per acre as they used to, so tree demand isn't a sign of acreage expansion. It's just that a thousand trees plant an acre now where once they planted four or five acres. "Budwood is always the limiting factor with new strains," she said, "but there has been a real shortage of rootstocks, too." There don't seem to be enough Malling 9-sized rootstocks, and promising new rootstocks, like the Geneva series, have been slow coming to market. "People want to plant trees on the Geneva rootstocks," Gale said, "but the supply is even tighter. They're booked out three, four, five years. "The western growers want the Geneva rootstocks because several are resistant to replant disease, which is a huge problem in the West," she said. "In the East, grow- ers are looking for fire blight resistance," another trait the Geneva stocks were bred to address. Some issues—such as brittleness at the graft union—have emerged with some cultivars on some Geneva rootstocks. "It takes fifty years to prove a rootstock," Gale said. "Nothing is perfect. Everything has an issue. Thirty years ago, everybody wanted a freestanding tree, so they planted on M.7 and thought that was great. We're always fine-tuning mis- takes." Matt Moser at Moser Fruit Trees Sales in Coloma, Michigan, is, like Summit Sales, a broker of fruit trees. He works with growers who are looking for trees, and he agrees with Gale, they're hard to come by. Labor Some forces that should be at work are probably slow- ing planting down somewhat, he said. Growers are concerned more every year about the shortage of seasonal labor, which will continue to get worse if there is no action to address the situation with undocumented workers. "The long-promised immigra- tion reform does not seem to be coming," he said. Still, growers continue planting apples, partly because the high-density systems allow for partial mechanization using platforms and make labor more efficient by taking ladders out of the orchards. Growers want to plant the newer, better coloring strains of Gala, such as Buckeye but especially Gale, he said. A key reason is to reduce the number of picks required based on color develop- ment. Aztec and Banning Fuji are preferred choices because they are more cherry red and less muddy in color than the original Fuji or BC 2 red. "All the nurseries are looking at red strains of Honeycrisp," he said. "Willow Drive is working with both Van Well and C&O to produce more of Royal Red." Consumers love Honeycrisp, but grow- ers are unhappy about how difficult they are to grow. "Are the new strains less diffi- cult? We don't know yet," he said. Jonagold has picked up in popular- ity. "There are some nice-coloring ones," Moser said, naming Red JonaPrince and Jonastar in particular. Will club apples do well? "Some of them will have legs," he said. "Ambrosia is one. I'm not sure how well SweeTango is going. Ever- Crisp is looking good, and it seems easier for growers to get involved." People who want to grow that variety merely need to join the Midwest Apple Improvement Association and pay the royalty fees on the trees to be part of that club. Moser operates both his fruit tree brokering busi- ness and an online business for backyard growers called Grandpa's Orchard. He grows about 250 heirloom vari- eties from which he buds trees and offers them on spec- ulation. "There is a growing interest in hard apple cider vari- eties," he said. "I want to get more involved in that. That industry is exploding, too." • HIGH DEMAND for trees There seems to be no letup in growers' desire to plant more apple trees. by Richard Lehnert New Varieties T he International New Varieties Network has committed to provide more than $672,000 (400,000 British pounds) over the next six years to support apple and pear rootstock research at East Malling Research in Kent, England. The emphasis of the program is to breed dwarfing and semidwarfing root- stocks with improved graft compatibility (for pears, in particular); increased precocity and productivity; resistant to fire blight and woolly apple aphid; and enhanced tolerance to replant disease and phytophthora. Such improvements would be beneficial to both nurseries and fruit growers because of improved tree productivity, longevity, and health, says Pete Van Well of INN member Van Well Nursery based in East Wenatchee, Washington. East Malling is where, exactly a century ago, Dr. Ronald Hatton took on the task of acquiring and cataloguing the many apple rootstocks found around Europe, and named them after the Malling station. Rootstocks from East Malling's breeding programs have been used around the globe and are highly regarded, Van Well says. When they met in Berlin in February this year, INN members agreed to renew their financial support of the Malling research program for another six years. Arrangements were finalized in March between East Malling breeder Feli Fernandez and INN repre- sentatives Alessio Martinelli from Italy, Bruno Esser from France, Graham Fleming from Australia, and Uwe Pfeil from Chile. INN, along with the Horticultural Development Company, a British company that funds research and communicates results to growers, has provided financial and techni- cal support to the East Malling Breeding Club since 2008. INN is represented by the nurseries Valois, Davodeau Ligonniere, Castang, and Mon- dial Fruit Selection in France; CIV in Italy; C&O, ProTree, Willow Drive, and Van Well in North America; Viveros Sacramento in Mexico; Andean Nursery Association in Chile; Graham's FacTree in Australia; Waimea Nurseries in New Zealand; and Stargrow in South Africa. Together, these nurseries produce more than 15 million trees and 25 million root- stocks annually, and are key players in the propagation of fruit trees for growers around the world, according to Van Well. • Nurseries fund East Malling research INN will provide funding for rootstock development. by Geraldine Warner "I see no signs of it abating. There are no real signs, just a few whispers." —Wanda Heuser Gale

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