BY JOHN DECOSTE
Kings County Advertiser/Register
Staff at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research station in Kentville continues to work with local apple growers and industry officials to identify new and improved apple cultivars.
Sept. 13, research scientist Charles Embree and Marina Myra, a research biologist hired for the project, led a tour of the evaluation trial patch at the station, which includes more than 150 varieties of apples.
According to Embree, the tour was held “to look at variety differences” among the various cultivars included in the trial, which has been on-going for more than 10 years. The trial is being jointly funded by The Nova Scotia Fruit Growers Association, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (through Agri-Futures Nova Scotia) and agricultural councils from New Brunswick and P.E.I. The first plantings included in the trials were done back in the mid-1990s.
“After 10 years, we took the first trees out, and we continue to plant and evaluate on a 10-year cycle. Each year, we plant some and take some out.”
Apple breeders, he pointed out, “are introducing new varieties all the time, as we are here. As research progresses, new varieties are released.
“We have to constantly keep up with the changing technology breeders are coming up with, all over the world.”
The trial area in Kentville includes apple cultivars developed here in Canada as well as the U.S. and many parts of Europe. Some 10 per cent of the trial area is made up of varieties developed in Kentville.
Dela Erith, executive director of the NSFGA, stresses the vital importance of the scientific research on-going in Kentville to the future success of the apple industry.
“Generically,” she says, “agriculture needs science to move forward.”
As an example, on-going research into the popular Honeycrisp variety “is vitally important to the industry if we’re going to get the best quality fruit onto the market shelves.”
Honeycrisp, she adds, “is a relatively new cultivar” and, like any variety, “it has its peculiarities.
“If we don’t have the scientific community to help identify and work with these peculiarities, we won’t get a quality product.”
The role science plays in the apple industry – and to agriculture in general – “is invaluable. Without the science,” she suggests, “it’s like having half a wheel.”
Science helps the industry identify potential problems with apple cultivars, “and at what step in the process we need to address them - whether it’s the production stage, storage and handling or whatever.”
Apple breeding and growing, she points out, “is getting more and more technical every day.”
Scotian Gold Co-operative in Coldbrook is doing “non-destructive testing. It’s all part of the advancement of our industry but, without science, that advancement doesn’t happen.”
Not only does the industry need on-going scientific research, “we need it to be done locally. That’s why the research facility here in Kentville, and the work being done there on a daily basis, is so important.”
Specific to the apple cultivar trials, she describes them as “research at the pre-production stage. We need to know what kinds of trees are going to be the most successful in our region.
“Once we know it will grow here successfully, then we determine whether the consumer likes it.” Once that is known, “then we can put it into production.” Marketing research “is quite different than scientific research, but they’re both equally important.”