A core component of the activities at the University of Guelph’s Simcoe Research Station is apples.
Tree fruits, particularly apples, have long been an emphasis at the SRS and associate professor John Cline, who specializes in tree fruit physiology, is one of its longest serving and respected researchers.
Cline, who joined the SRS in 1993, said orchards have changed over the past 20 years with a trend from moderate to high density tree populations. Major thrusts of research include the evaluation of dwarfing rootstocks on precocity, cropping efficiencies, disease resistance, disease resistance, cold hardiness and tree vigour.
Varietal changes have also been significant, Cline said, citing the Honey Crisp “story”. He said the variety was popularized in the 1980s in the United States and has gone from “nothing to the most” planted in the apple industry.
Cline explained the popularity to the consumers’ taste is its juicy crispness, sweetness and unique texture. The Gala variety also has similar attributes, he added.
Norfolk County is the second largest apple producing area in Ontario and sixth in Canada with 2,225 acres in production.
“It’s a major producer, but not as big as it used to be,” Cline said.
Honey Crisp is making inroads in Norfolk orchards in addition to the traditional McIntosh, Empire, Northern Spy and Red Delicious varieties.
Responding to a recent market trend, researchers at SRS are assessing the horticultural attributes of 30 different European varieties for the making of hard cider.
“A lot are not edible, but when pressed into cider give a unique flavour,” Cline said.
While plantings have declined, work at the SRS has improved orchard management and tree fruit physiology.
Cline said they have looked at efficiencies in labour and production. Apples today are redder and larger resulting in a virtual elimination of juice apples which have limited value and high labour costs.
Current research is looking at the chemical thinning of fruit in June to reduce the number of smaller apples. They are also looking at “green” technology in the form of a “weed wacker” to knock off blossoms to reduce under-sized apples.
Advances in genetics are producing root stocks to keep the tree smaller and be more resistant to disease and cold temperatures. Research has also centred on irrigation technology and scheduling to maximize tree growth and reduce the risk associated with drought stress.
“We want to use water more effectively and affordably,” Cline said.
Originally published in Norfolk Farms, March 2017, by Media Pro Publishing, 519-429-0847.