Nursery Association Commits Over Half-Million Dollars To Pome Rootstock Breeding Program

International New-Varieties Networks (INN), an international nursery consortium, renewed its commitment to apple and pear rootstock innovation recently by supporting ongoing research at the famous East Malling facility in Kent, United Kingdom. The commitment is more than 400,000 British Pound Sterling (approximately $675,000) over six years, demonstrating the importance placed on the rootstock breeding program.

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Arrangements were finalized in March between INN representatives Alessio Martinelli, Bruno Essner, Graham Fleming, Uwe Pfeil, and East Malling breeder Feli Fernandez. INN members approved the renewal at their annual meeting in February in Berlin.

INN, along with the Horticultural Development Company (HDC), has provided financial and technical support to the East Malling Breeding Club since 2008. The emphasis of the program is to breed dwarfing and semi-dwarfing rootstock with improved graft compatibility (pears in particular), increased precocity and productivity, resistance to fire blight and woolly apple aphid, and enhanced tolerance to replant disease and Phytophthora.

These rootstock improvements have the potential to be significantly beneficial to both nurseries and fruit growers with improved tree productivity, longevity, and health. Rootstocks from East Malling’s breeding program are widespread globally and are highly regarded.

INN is represented in Europe by Valois, Davideau-Ligonniere; Castang and CIV; in North America by C&O, Protree, Willow Drive, and Van Well; in Mexico by Viveros Sacramento; in Chile by ANA; in Austalia by Graham’s FacTree; in New Zealand by Waimea Nurseries; and in South Africa by Starfruits. Total annual production from these nurseries exceeds 15 million trees and 25 million rootstocks annually, and so are key players in the propagation of fruit trees for fruit growers around the world.

INN spokesman Pete Van Well said the commitment to East Malling does not preclude involvement by the U.S. nurseries in other breeding programs, and in fact the members all have independent arrangements, such as with Cornell University in New York or HortResearch in New Zealand.

“This was an opportunity for the whole group to work together,” said Van Well. “A key benefit is the global reach — we get a lot of levels of experience.”