Late Season Apricots

May 2008
This is the story of the work being done by HortResearch, and a privately owned company, Nevis to breed late season apricots to get them into Europe and other international markets later in the season than any other fruit exporting country. The work being done in Central Otago appears to be the only breeding programmes in the world to be working towards this.

HortResearchs Clyde site is situated in the pip and summerfruit-growing region in Central Otago. It has been running a breeding programme for apricots, peaches and nectarines. One of the programmes outcomes is the series of apricots known as the Clutha series, which has turned the focus from domestic to export production.

There are two organizations involved in the process of creating a new variety of late maturing apricots for the European market. Arlene Bradley is a research associate at HortResearchs Clyde site.

Currently, most of the apricots grown in NZ are being produced for the domestic market and for Australia. There is not enough volume for growers to send produce to Europe and the compliance issues are immense. The hope for this programme is to fill what is currently a gap in the European and other markets with late season apricots.

Earnscy Weaver, an independent horticultural consultant, is contracted to evaluate the various Nevis varieties of fruit and consult with breeders and growers during the development process.

The process of cross-pollinating and breeding plants for certain and desirable traits has been going on since Gregor Mendel was working with peas in the mid 1800s. Breeders today employ much the same principals when they look for new varieties of fruit. Flowers from plants displaying the desired characteristics are cross-pollinated with others.

The programme is looking for high-flavoured, late-maturing apricot cultivars with enhanced storage potential. Late maturing sports are crossed with high quality varieties. Fruit from this is collected and seedlings planted out. They then undergo an initial evaluation. Plants producing fruit from these seedlings that continue to show promise are then grafted onto peach rootstock and grown on for secondary evaluation.

Harry Roberts has a family-owned orchard business and is involved in the secondary evaluation of the breeding programme as well as growing the first of the late selections that have been commercialised. He currently has Nevis selections on his orchard block.