How new apple varieties come to our local markets:

An Ontario apple farmer tells us how he picks what apples he’ll be growing next.

 

Photo credit: CropLife Canada

Over 7,500 apple varieties are grown around the world. Not all of these will grow well here in Ontario due to our climate and soil conditions, but with so much choice, how do apple farmers decide what trees they’re going plant and what apples they’re going to grow?

We checked in with Ontario apple grower Kyle Ardiel to find out how those decisions are made on their Georgian Bay area family farm. Ardiel farms 100 acres of orchard with his father Shane near Clarksburg, growing predominantly Honeycrisp, as well as Ambrosia, Gala, McIntosh, Northern Spy, Crimson Crisp and Salish.

What new varieties have you planted in recent years?

We’re always testing new varieties and breeding new ones. Most recently we planted two Canadian-bred apples. One is called Salish and the other one doesn’t have a commercial name yet – we are testing it with Ontario Apple Growers and apple breeders in Summerland, British Columbia to see how the variety performs in our climate.

Gala is the number one apple sold in Ontario and we’re always trying new sports (what the apple industry calls a new strain of a certain apple variety) of Gala too, to find one that matures at a different date or maybe has a different colour.

The challenge with trying completely new varieties is that it takes a while for consumers to get to know them and retailers require big quantities to sell them in their stores. That won’t happen for a few years with a new variety. We planted our Salish trees five years ago and they’re now producing apples that are amazing for taste, and excellent for both storing and eating, but they’re not very well known yet.

Why do you choose to plant new varieties instead of just replacing existing apple trees with more of the same?

We are always looking for new varieties that will fit the taste profiles that consumers are looking for. Picking new apple varieties is a bit like picking for the stock market: there is high risk in new varieties that could either pay off well or completely flop. You never know what you will get so sometimes it’s safer to go with a new sport of a variety like Honeycrisp that is proven and known in the marketplace.

What are some of the most popular newer varieties in Ontario apple production currently?

Gala is the most highly sought-after apple on the market right now. Salish isn’t on the radar yet at all, but there are new sports of Gala and Honeycrisp, which are two very popular varieties. Ambrosia is also popular and still in its infancy in the market.

As a grower, what makes an apple variety attractive to you when you’re making apple selection decisions?

Market research helps determine what taste profiles are currently in demand with consumers, and what they’re looking for when it comes to taste or texture. That helps me decide what I look for in varieties I’m considering growing.

Sometimes, though, a variety that is an excellent apple to eat and is sought after in the premium market is not always desired by growers – Honeycrisp is an example of this as it is one of the most difficult and costly apple varieties to grow.

Galas, by comparison, are a farmer-friendly apple because the trees produce well and consistently; they also happen to be the best selling apple variety in Canada.

What does it mean for your farm economically when you plant new varieties?

Planting new trees can be extremely costly. With the new trellis planting systems, it costs about $50,000 per acre of orchard planted, and it will take five to seven years before we get a good crop of apples from those new trees. On our farm, we want to have our trees in the ground and producing apples for at least 20 years so we can make a decent return on our investment. This makes it very critical for us to find varieties that will still be desired in the future.

Are there any new varieties you're eyeing up for future plantings?

I am currently interested in the development of the new variety we are trialing and Salish, which we talked about earlier. In my opinion, Salish is a far superior eating apple compared to older and more common varieties. Next year we will also have some Crimson Gala coming in, that’s a redder Gala apple, as well as new types of Honeycrisp.