Good Fruit Grower

November 2012

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GOOD TO KNOW A research report from Karina Gallardo, Washington State University, and Jim McFerson, Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission A What growers want in new varieties The RosBREED project's economic team is conducting national surveys. dopting a new scion cultivar is a crucial decision for tree fruit growers, who must consider both horticultural and market performance. Apple growers have mostly figured out how to pro- duce high yields of excellent quality fruit for many standard varieties like Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Empire, but market demand for those varieties has steadily deteriorated. On the other hand, many newer cultivars have stellar market potential but bring production and/or handling challenges. For example, consumer demand for Honeycrisp, based on its unique eat- ing quality, has kept returns high, despite the many production and postharvest challenges this breakthrough cultivar brings. The same pattern holds for other fruit crops like cherries and peaches. Of course, growers want it all: a cultivar with high per-acre tonnage potential, excellent pack- outs, and huge market demand. Processors and shippers would like a cultivar with outstanding handling characteristics. Retailers would like a cultivar that maximizes the return per square foot of store space. A recent, nationwide effort by RosBREED socioeconomic researchers is designed to help plant breeders better identify trait priorities and improve their ability to deliver cultivars that con- sistently provide superior fruit quality to the con- sumer, and at the same time, value to all members of the supply chain. The RosBREED socioeconomic team is con- ducting nationwide surveys of growers, market intermediaries, and consumers about their pref- erences for new fruit cultivars. A survey of ship- pers, packers, brokers, processors, and other marketing intermediaries was conducted in April 2011. A written nationwide survey of fruit growers was conducted in January 2012, and a nationwide online survey of consumers along with an eco- nomic experiment (on apples only) will conclude in November 2012. In this article, we report the results from 12 interactive audience surveys using clickers at major industry meetings held nationwide between December 2011 and August 2012. Respondents, who were mostly growers and orchard managers, provided their opinions on the fruit quality and plant attributes they believed were most important for fresh apple, fresh and processing peach, sweet cherry, tart cherry, and fresh strawberry varieties. Apple The audience surveys of apple growers tar- geted orchard owners or managers with the authority to make the decision to adopt a new cultivar. There were 98 participants in New York, 92 in North Carolina, 90 in Washington, 78 in Michigan, and 72 in Minnesota. Regional varia- tion was apparent for size of operation, as 62 per- cent of Washington growers had more than 100 acres, compared with 49 percent in New York, 32 percent in Michigan, 22 percent in North Carolina, and 15 percent in Minnesota. Return on investment, potential market per- formance, and fruit quality were the three most important factors impacting the decision to adopt a new apple cultivar across all five states surveyed (Figure 1). Few respondents considered orchard issues, such as horticultural perform- ance, reduced spray needs, or labor availability, as the most important factors in adopting a new cultivar. In all five states, respondents agreed that the most important attribute was fruit flavor, fol- lowed by fruit crispness (Figure 2). Overall, less than 10 percent of respondents considered fruit firmness, sugar/acid balance, disease resistance, or shelf life at retail as the most important factor. Processing peach Twenty-six California processing peach grow- ers signaled return on investment as the most important reason for adopting a new cultivar, fol- lowed by labor availability, and fruit quality (Figure 3). Productivity was rated as the most important attribute for a successful cultivar by a third of the respondents, followed by fruit firm- ness, fruit size, and uniform harvest maturity (Figure 4). Fresh market peach The Pennsylvania (mostly producers from the Mid-Atlantic states) and Georgia (from south- eastern states, mostly South Carolina) meetings had 33 and 30 participants respectively. Some striking differences between the regions were evident. Southeastern respondents tended to be involved in larger operations than those from the Mid-Atlantic. Thirty-three percent of Southeast respondents indicated that return on investment was the most important factor impacting the decision to adopt a new cultivar, compared to only 9 percent in the Mid-Atlantic (Figure 5). In contrast, 44 percent of respondents from the Mid-Atlantic considered fruit quality the most important versus 16 percent of south- eastern respondents (Figure 6). A number of differences were also evident in importance of fruit or tree attributes. Mid- Atlantic respondents placed higher importance on fruit flavor and less on fruit size than respon- dents from the Southeast. Respondents from the Southeast considered production consistency and soluble solids to be more important than those from the Mid-Atlantic, while the latter considered fruit firmness and shape more important. Sweet cherry A survey of 101 sweet cherry growers in Wash- ington indicated that the two most important fac- tors impacting the decision to adopt a new cultivar were return on investment and potential market performance, followed by fruit quality, horticultural performance and labor availability FIGURE 2 Most important fruit quality or tree attribute for a successful apple cultivar. 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 0 5 Michigan Minnesota New York North Carolina Washington RosBREED is a multi-institutional, multi- national project to accelerate the intro- duction and adoption of superior cultivars in rosaceous crops like apple, peach, straw- berry, sweet cherry, and tart cherry. Funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Research Ini- tiative, RosBREED has gathered scientists to generate both socioeconomic and DNA information and apply it via marker- assisted breeding to improve the efficiency of developing breakthrough cultivars. FIGURE 1 Most important reason for adopting a new apple cultivar. 10 20 30 40 50 60 0 Michigan Minnesota New York North Carolina Washington GOOD FRUIT GROWER NOVEMBER 2012 29 PERCENT (of audience survey respondents) Fruit flavor crispness Fruit Fruit resistance firmness Disease Sugar/acid balance Shelf life at retail Return on investment Potential market performance Fruit quality Horticultural performance spray needs Labor Reduced availability PERCENT (of audience survey respondents)

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