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Chance seedling leads to international marketsFrom the first time one meets Bill Shields, it is quickly recognised this is a man who isn’t afraid of taking on a challenge – turning a chance seedling into an international business.
The orchardist from Bilpin in NSW has been growing apples since his family moved to the property in the 1955 – before taking over completely in 1980.
“By contemporary standards, we’re a really small orchard,” Bill said.
“We have three hectares of trees and our business has completely refocused. We have always retailed fruit off the farm and used to send fruit to conventional markets as well as directly to retailers.”
“That all disappeared as the supermarkets took hold and we were just too small to be in that market. So we moved into pick your own – so now we are involved in tourism.”
However a single apple tree found growing in the garden gave Bill a unique opportunity.
“This tree never had fruit on it so we assumed it had come from a seed.”
It was in the late 90’s when other apple trees were planted nearby – with the single tree becoming pollinated and producing fruit for the first time.
“I decided to try these apples and they were okay in taste,” said Bill.
“They didn’t look that good as the tree was growing in shade. So we propagated the tree into an orchard situation where it started to show its characteristic of good coloured and even sized fruit over the entire tree.”
Bill said that even low on the tree in the shade, the apples are even sized with good colour.
“This was essentially a one pick variety with 80% of the fruit being 90% colour.”
What is unique about Bill’s discovery is the origins cannot be traced. The last time a chance seedling in NSW became a recognised variety was with the Granny Smith, originating from Ryde in 1868.
A chance seedling is a genetically unique plant that comes from unintentional breeding, and the opportunity to create a viable crop to sell to market is rare.
“In the initial stages we sent fruit off to various people to try and identify it – whether it was an old variety.”
“The late Dr Jill Campbell who had strong knowledge in this area was unable to identify it.”
Bill said he realised the apple was unique and began to plan a process to gain his Plant Breeders Rights (PBR) for the variety which was completed in 2017.
"It's very grower friendly, it's precocious, it appears to be resistant to apple scab and powdery mildew," Bill said of the characteristics of the apple which he called “Julie” after his wife.
He also placed the variety in an Australian Fruit Improvement Program (AFIP) in 2008 with trials grown in Shepparton in Victoria, Lenswood in South Australia, and Huonville in Tasmania.
Bilpin apple growers - Bill and Julie Shields
Bill said the initial trial, under AFIP as well as expert advice over the years, has given him the confidence to invest tens of thousands of dollars in trade marking and supplying various orchards.
“We trademarked the name Julie in Australia and also as Julz in overseas markets due to the Juliette apple in France.”
“We haven’t had a lot of hiccups as this is an expensive exercise. Julz is now trademarked in 46 countries including Korea, China, EU nations, US and countries I have never heard of where they grow apples.”
Bill has also plant plant material into the US where it has been certified as virus free, allowing a provisional release.
“We should have general release in the US in 2019. It is a long game and we’re going to the US to speak to people in Washington about trials there.”
“It is a long complex process and a challenge and at my stage in life – I need a few challenges.”
While the Julz apple is closest in flavor to Fuji, there are subtle flavours some relate to such as strawberries, pear and even pineapple!
A desire to change a business model and a chance seedling in a garden has given this NSW grower a unique future.
Phone: +61 0427772431
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