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Rights: The University of Waikato
Published 9 June 2011

Breeding a new apple cultivar takes many years and is expensive, so speeding up the process gives breeders an important commercial advantage. Richard Volz describes how Plant & Food Research makes apple breeding as fast and efficient as possible. Their approach includes hothousing seedlings to make them fruit sooner and developing DNA marker-based techniques to help select breeding parents at an early stage.

Questions to consider:
In streamlining the breeding process, breeders aim to develop new apple cultivars both faster and more efficiently. What’s the difference between making a process faster and making it more efficient? Why are both outcomes desirable from a commercial perspective?


Richard Volz (Plant & Food Research)
From a commercial perspective, what we need to be doing if we want to have a successful variety is be as quick as possible into the marketplace with something that’s new, and in order to do that, we need to have the breeding system going as quickly as possible.

The propagation techniques that we use to accelerate the breeding process are varied. We have to realise that an apple seedling goes through a juvenile phase, in other words, in the first few years of a seedling’s life, it won't produce flowers or fruit. From a breeding perspective, that’s not very good – we want it to flower and fruit as quickly as possible – so 1 of the things that we do is grow the seedlings initially in a glasshouse, growing them very rapidly so that we can take wood from the top part of the plant where it’s mature, put it onto rootstock and get those to flower and fruit as quickly as possible.

So it takes around about 15 to 20 years to develop a new cultivar from the first cultivar breeding cross through to commercialisation of that new variety. With some of the genomic tools that are becoming available, we expect that process to decrease by about at least a half so that we are talking around 7 to 10 years. So it will make quite a significant difference to the breeding programme in the future.