Members of the British Independent Fruit Growers Association (BIFGA) have visited the Brogdale branch of the body's Bifga21 apple variety trials, launched in 2009 to commemorate the association's 21st anniversary.
The trials were based at Brogdale Farm and Hadlow College, with small-scale planting at RHS Wisley. The Brogdale trial comprises 10 trees of each of 38 varieties and clones on M9. The Hadlow College trial is identical apart from being on a different soil type and elevation, allowing performance differences to be assessed.
Most of the 800 or so Bifga21 trees were planted in winter 2009-10. The varieties and clones were selected and contributed free of charge by nurserymen and tree supplier members - FP Matthews, Seabrooks, the Farm Advisory Services Team (FAST) and JR Breach through Pepiniere du Valois. Stakes and wire netting were supplied by JR Breach, the stakes through DWS Desindo Wood Supply.
Attendees at last month's Brogdale event heard that FAST was managing the Brogdale trial, providing technical input for both sites and compiling records when funds are available.
Hadlow College managed its trial, with spraying carried out by local grower Peter Kedge. Spray chemicals for the Brogdale and Hadlow College trials were supplied by Masstock and Hutchinsons respectively.
FAST managing director Tim Biddlecombe said the Brogdale trees were planted in good conditions in spring 2010 and watered in by hand from a bowser. Fruit was removed last summer and this season's bloom was profuse, he added.
"We're not going to do a lot of tree training. We will allow the trees to find their natural (structure) to see whether their growth is upright or spreading," Biddlecombe explained.
The trees include clones of well-established varieties such as Discovery NFT, Bramley's Seedling (clone 20), Braeburn NAKB, Royal Braeburn, Gala Schniga and Cauflight (Cameo). There are also some newer varieties such as Kanzi and Rubens.
The newcomers also include Junami, a club variety managed by Inova Fruit, a consortium of Dutch and Belgian orchard houses. It is an Idared/Maigold, Elstar cross with very good eating quality and picks at the start of the Golden Delicious season. It is also claimed to have excellent storage quality.
"Its Idared parentage gives it a slightly weepy tree habit and slight susceptibility to mildew," said Biddlecombe. "It colours extremely well - as early as August. Wye Fruit has planted some."
The Braeburn clones include the NAKB Dutch virus-free selection cleaned up by the Dutch Virus Testing Service. Its trees differ from other clones in being a bit more vigorous and its fruit is "definitely slightly sweeter", he reckoned.
In a good colouring year its colour is no problem, but in a poor colouring year colour it is later to develop than on Hillwell Braeburn, which is also in the Brogdale trial.
Wellant was another late Inova variety at Brogdale. Biddlecombe said it was described as a "rustic apple" that has a more aromatic flavour than most, although it tends to be a bit soft and prone to russeting.
"New varieties have got to be outstanding to compete with Jazz, Kanzi and Rubens," Biddlecombe told Grower.
"To be honest, none of the newcomers are stunning enough and the only way for one to get accepted is if it's got something special in terms of storage ability, picking date or colour, for example," he added.
BIFGA chairman John Breach suggested that fruit from the trials could be sold through farm shops (Hadlow College and Brogdale Farm both have one) to get immediate feedback of consumer reaction to each variety.
Biddlecombe described some of FAST's own trials. These included one of twin stem apples and pears developed in Italy, a Horticultural Development Company trial of six plum varieties and a Braeburn, Cox Discovery and Conference planting density study.
INSURANCE SUBSIDY - HELP WITH HAIL COVER
Hail insurance, which has always been regarded by growers as very expensive despite the catastrophic losses hail can cause, is now claimed to be more affordable. This is largely thanks to a common market organisation subsidy, introduced in 2009, of up to 50 per cent of the annual insurance premium.
That news was given to BIFGA members attending last month's trial visit by Jonny McIrvine, rural divisional director of Lycetts, the Newmarket-based specialist in hail insurance. He said the subsidy was available through producer organisations and was paid direct to growers, not insurance companies.
The hail insurance scheme is run by OFH, a Dutch mutual insurer established by the Dutch Fruitgrowers' Organisation in 1953. Initially, it provided specialist hail insurance for Dutch fruit growers, but now serves Belgian, Swedish and UK growers as well.
McIrvine said the annual premium started at £200/ha after deduction of the subsidy, representing a considerable reduction. "The more growers who join the scheme, the lower the cost," he claimed. "Any insurance is a pooling issue and the bigger the pool the better."