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Chile: Work underway to create the first 100% Chilean apple

Until the late 80s red and green were the only types of apples known widely in the country. Since then, the varieties grown in the country have increased, and today Chile is among the leading exporters of apples worldwide.

They all entered the country when there were no restrictions or payments for bringing new apple trees and growing them in Chile. But conditions have changed, and today the other producing countries restrict volume, cultivated surface, and even packaging criteria, or prohibit the use of new varieties to protect their own.

Faced with this situation, and to avoid being left out of the global market, Chilean researchers and producers have worked since 1995 to create the first 100% Chilean apple variety. A unique and indigenous fruit to the country, that not only suits the climatic and soil conditions, but also has an appearance, crispness, juiciness and sweetness that make it appetizing.

The "Programa de Mejoramiento de Manzano" is an initiative approved and funded by Innova Chile and the Consorcio Tecnológico de la Industria Hortofrutícola, that is executed by the Investigaciones Agropecuarias (INIA) in its Quilamapu center in Chillán, along with the Universidad Católica. It is the first time a program of this type has been undertaken.

Paul Grau, a researcher at Inia Quilamapu and program manager for the genetic improvement of apples, explains: "In today's world new varieties of apple trees are the result of genetic improvement. Based on consumer market trends and preferences, the parent trees are specifically crossbred and selected for these particular attributes."

The Chilean program seeks to create a "tailor-made suit" of one or more varieties of apple tree that are appropriate for the country's climate. To do this, 60,000 crosses (7,000 per year) between the different varieties of apple trees that were already in Chile, and pollen from other apple trees have been made, thanks to agreements with American universities.

The objective of this program is to obtain apple tree varieties of a high commercial quality, that in addition to being tasty, have a resistance to the Venturia fungus (that appears on the fruit when it gets wet by rain).

To date, there are already more than a dozen potential Chilean varieties planted in different localities from Talca to Valdivia which are being evaluated according to the fruit they produce. Several of them are resistant to this fungus, so one of the objectives of the program has already been achieved.
Given the levels of radiation that exists in the country, Chilean apples should also be resistant to it. This being one of the attributes being sought by the project.

Lengthy process
Between 7 and 10 years may pass from the crossing of apple trees, until a fruit with commercial potential is obtained, since it is likely that the fruit is not good enough during the early years when the trees are young.

"Today we have between 15 and 20 apple trees selected in advance that are being evaluated, analyzed and subjected to various tests. But there are between 55,000 and 60,000 potential varieties, i.e., the product of a planted seed, "says Grau.

There is no single method to qualify an apple. "Instrumental and sensory evaluation methods are required. Firmness, soluble solids (content of fruit sugar) and acidity evaluations are made with instruments that allow a quantitative measurement. But the crispness, juiciness, flavor, sugar/acid ratio, which are used to classify whether the fruit is appropriate or not, must be performed by a human subject, which at this stage means the researchers and producers.

When there are more varieties selected international tasters will be invited to perform their evaluation, and will finally decide on the 100% Chilean variety with more commercial possibilities.

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