3 apples fruit
“Innovate or Die!” wrote Tom Peters in 1982 in his spectacularly popular book on business management, In Search of Excellence. Since then, his cry has been repeated countless times in speeches and articles by the famous and not-so-famous, used as the title of seminars and names of websites and is generally seen as the banner waving above the high tech age in which we live.
Yet, Peters’ dictum doesn’t apply exclusively to our time or to highly visible sectors like electronics and medicine. Its push has been present for centuries and its reach goes into every corner of human endeavor.
Innovation often triggers a period of rapid development when, over a few years, a particular area of research generates more new information than it has in the previous several decades. This can occur when the introduction of a new technology makes it possible to do something for the first time or turns a time consuming, expensive process into one that is much easier and less costly. In the last 25 years, for example, the world has seen a veritable explosion of information in the field of molecular biology. This was initiated by a rather simple advancement in the technology used to sequence DNA.
Mineral analysis, something we in agriculture often take for granted, had its day in the sun almost a century ago. By 1850, every important plant nutrient could be measured with a reasonable degree of accuracy. However, many of the methods needed to determine mineral concentrations in plant tissues were extremely slow and laborious.
The introduction of new technologies in the first half of the 20th century changed all that.
The two decade span of the 1930s and 40s was a kind of Golden Age for mineral analysis and made plant tissue analysis a very hot research area in horticulture and crop science. Mineral Nutrition of Fruit Crops, edited by Norman Childers in 1954, is a bookend to that era. It described the nutritional requirements and basic relationships between minerals, plant health and fruit quality for almost all commercially important temperate and several subtropical fruit and nut crops. Except for a few historical references, the papers cited were all published between 1925 and 1952.
From about 1960 until the early 1980s, additional research fine-tuned our understanding of the relationships between mineral concentrations in apples and fruit quality. Many people made contributions to the effort during this period but none more so than Michael Perring at the East Malling Research Station in the U.K. who published more than 75 articles and reports on the subject.
Practical application of this information began almost as soon as it became available. In 1975 in Belgium, R.D. Marcelle used fruitlet mineral analysis to predict the storability of apples. Six years later in the U.K., Eric Gunn founded Farm Advisory Services Team (FAST), a horticultural advisory company.
One of FAST’s main services was to predict storage potential of apples based on fruitlet mineral analysis for cooperative packinghouses. Packinghouses used the predictions as a factor in determining returns to growers. Growers who shipped fruit with long term storage potential were paid more than those who shipped fruit with shorter term storage potential. Through the 1980s, the use of fruitlet analysis as a tool to predict fruit storage potential spread quickly through Europe, South Africa, New Zealand and South America. The one region of the world where its use was notably absent was North America.
In the mid-1980s, Duane Holder at the BC Fruit Packers Cooperative began to push the idea of fruitlet analysis for the B.C. industry. Dr. Sam Lau of the Okanagan Federated Shippers Association (OFSA) and Dr. Bill McPhee of the Okanagan Similkameen Cooperative visited Michael Perring and Eric Gunn in the U.K. and R.D. Marcelle in Belgium in 1987 for a firsthand look at commercial fruitlet mineral programs.
The two returned to B.C. convinced of the value of the practice. A Fruitlet Mineral Project was initiated by OFSA in 1989 in conjunction with Dr. Gerry Neilsen at Agriculture Canada in Summerland.
The Fruitlet Mineral Project evolved into a commercial program in 1994. Since its inception, the program has established sampling protocols and mineral recommendations for most major apple varieties grown in the province.
Because of the small size of most B.C. orchards and the inherent difficulty in trying to segregate so many lots of fruit into CA rooms of similar storage potential, fruitlet analysis has proven to be more useful here as feedback to growers in their nutrition programs, guiding them toward the production of higher quality fruit. Compiled results from a number of analyses are used by the industry to gain a general idea of the overall storability of the crop before it is harvested and to identify lots of especially poor storage potential.
Over the years, fruitlet analysis has been used to greater or lesser degrees by different parts of the B.C. industry. At times, analyses and recommendations have been provided to growers as part of a packinghouse program and at other times, they have been offered as a separate fee for service.
As with any technology, there are growers for whom fruitlet mineral analysis has become an important tool in managing their orchards and others who have yet to fully appreciate how valuable it can be to their operation. When in a position of having to pay for mineral analyses out of pocket, most apple growers will get a leaf analysis when trees have visible symptoms of health problems, but many are still reluctant to get an annual fruitlet analysis to help assure they are producing fruit of the highest internal quality.
The Washington State apple industry showed an interest in fruitlet analysis as soon as it was introduced in B.C. but, in general, did not adopt it as a commercial practice until more recently. The number of fruitlet mineral programs south of the border has been increasing rapidly in the last few years.
Unlike B.C., where most apples are produced by cooperative growers, the majority of apples grown in Washington are directly owned by the producer through storage up until the time they are sold. Growers there are realizing the value of fruitlet analysis as one more piece of information that can be used to estimate the storability of different lots of their fruit.
Mineral analysis was the last century’s innovation and fruitlet analysis was the last generation’s innovation. One of the many challenges we face in the fruit industry today is to innovate ways to use these intellectual tools we have inherited, to exploit knowledge handed down to us to our economic advantage. To not do so would be to stare down the gun barrel of the alternative to Innovate or …!, in Peter’s battle cry. That’s a place none of us wants to go. ■