Nurseries Discuss Club Varieties

In recent years, one of the red-hot topics in the apple-growing business is so-called “club,” or managed, varieties. At American/Western Fruit Grower, we’ve heard from many growers on the topic, whether at industry meetings, on our discussion-based interactive website, ProduceCommunity.com, or the poll we include in our weekly eNewsletter.

For example, a poll in December asked: “Do you think club varieties are good for the industry?” Interestingly, more than three quarters of the respondents, or 76%, answered with a resounding “No.”

So it seemed like a natural topic to revisit in this issue of the magazine, in which we survey some of the nation’s top tree fruit, nut, and grapevine nurseries. Which nurseries we survey largely depends on the topic. This year, for example, the survey was limited to apple tree providers.

At any rate, we thought it was high time to hear from some of the people who provide most growers in the U.S. with their apple trees what they think about managed varieties. What follows are some questions we posed followed by some provocative answers from such industry leaders as Pete Van Well of Van Well Nursery in East Wenatchee, WA; Neal Manly of Willow Drive Nursery in Ephrata, WA; and Phil Baugher of Adams County Nursery in Aspers, PA.

A/WFG: In general, how do you feel about managed varieties?

Van Well: Managed varieties have their place, and if they provide better returns for growers, that is good news. The potential problem I see is how many managed varieties will the market bear. As more and more varieties go club, the industry may have to continue to create new approaches to marketing these new varieties.

Manly: As (just one) part of a diversified production portfolio.

Baugher: I think there are more managed varieties than there are slots in produce departments of the major retailers. Therefore it is critical to those who launch these varieties that attention is paid to fruit quality. There are many great apple varieties already in the pipeline so for a new variety to find a place, it must be exceptional.

A/WFG: What do you see happening with them in the future?

Van Well: There will be a time when we see a glut of managed varieties, and some will inevitably go by the wayside.

Manly: The verdict is still out. Some early successes hopefully will build momentum for the future.

A/WFG: Will we continue to see more of them, as we have in the recent past?

Van Well: I believe it will slow over time, or new better varieties will take the place of older managed varieties.

Baugher: I do not think we are going to see as many in the next 10 years as we have in the past 10 and we may see new innovative models for releasing new varieties.

A/WFG: As more new varieties are introduced under managed programs, what are you doing to market your own new varieties to growers?

Van Well: We continue to look for new varieties. The question now when we find a promising new variety is how to release it. Open releases, such as Blondee, we aggressively advertise in trade publications and our catalog. Managed varieties, we take a much more subdued approach. We try to target those varieties only to people in the club.

Manly: Without marketing support, all new varieties will struggle to succeed.

Baugher: We are not interested in managing a variety. Variety management needs to be done by the packer/shipper. As nursery growers, we do not feel that we have expertise in the managing of varieties, however we may take new selections that we control in the future and find partners in the growing and packing sector.

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