Throughout the country's entire apple tree production region, from the Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins region to Araucanía, five promising apple tree selections from the Apple Tree Genetic Improvement Program (PMG) from the Fruit Technology Consortium are being evaluated. It is funded by CORFO, and executed by the Institute of Agricultural Research (INIA) and the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC).
The Apple tree's PMG started in 2009 and is currently in phase 2.0, which ends in 2022, date that will give birth to the first variety of Chilean apple as a product of genetic improvement.
The release of a new variety of apple tree in most of the breeding programs in the world involves a period of more than twenty years. However, in this case that term would be cut in half, thanks to a high number of crossbreeding where advanced selections and varieties were used through cooperation agreements procured with other breeding centers from the northern hemisphere.
Among the quality attributes presented by these selections, particular features such as texture, especially crispness, firmness and juiciness, are particularly highlighted. These factors are currently demanded by consumer markets.
Practically in all the tasting panels, and fruit tests carried out by trained panelists in the fruit's main destination markets, the attributes mentioned beforehand were repeatedly brought up as an apple's preferred key sensory elements. These are the reasons why the International breeding programs focus on these aspects of the fruit's texture among their priority objectives in its quality.
In the last decade or two there were several dozen new apple varieties offered to the public as a product of the breeding programs in several countries. However, it is not easy for one of them to represent 1% of the World's apple trade. Each current apple variety, which dominates world trade, occupies a particular segment within consumers. This is according to its characteristics and attributes.
In this sense, for a new variety to occupy part of that segment it has only two alternatives: to move a segment of loyal consumers to another variety, towards the new variety, and/or capture a new consumer market geared towards this new variety on its more attractive attributes.
Apple varieties that can position themselves in the increasingly competitive world of the new varieties, must necessarily meet conditions that are attractive not only for consumers, but for several actors in the industry. Without a doubt, the fruit has to meet the attributes that today's consumer demands in an apple, among whom, aspects of texture such as crispness, firmness and juiciness, represent very important elements.
In the agronomic aspect on the other hand, any factor that contributes to improve and facilitate their orchard management, will also contribute to increase an interest in establishing new orchards, while at the same time achieving a significant production volume in a short time for fruit producers. In this sense, a variety with a better tolerance to abiotic (such as sun damage in fruit) or biotic (tolerance/resistance to some pathogen) factors, will undoubtedly have an effect on cost reduction, and better returns for the farmer.
Finally, another element of great importance to improve consumers' acceptance of this new variety is its sustainability, that is to say, that it is a harmless fruit. In this respect, a variety that can be promoted as pesticide-free by presenting resistance to a specific pathogen can positively influence acceptance by consumers seeking increasingly innocuous products and on the other side, by producers looking to optimize their field's costs and management.
The Fruit Genealogical Consortium's Apple Tree Genetic Improvement Program, supported by CORFO, is producing varieties in which resistance to Venturia has been incorporated, in addition to quality attributes. This with the purpose of not requiring the application of fungicides to prevent the damage caused by this fungus.
Last 2016/2017 season, after more than 800 different apple tree samples were evaluated, thirty-two were highlighted. These are being propagated in order to be incorporated in the evaluation tests of the four producing regions of the country. While in the 2018/2019 season selected candidates will be nominated, from which the first commercial Chilean apple variety will finally be chosen.