Vineland Research and Innovation Centre’s Apple Breeding Program Update 2023

Producing apples that highly appeal to consumers continues to be our focus. As we expand our testing network and increase our capacity for selection, we will be advancing material that is adapted to Canada’s changing climate and disease pressures.  

Vineland’s Test 1 (T1) block now contains approximately 17,000 unique seedling trees with about 3000 being added and removed each year. Vineland’s genomics laboratory pre-screens all seedlings using molecular markers with the goal of enriching the population for key traits such as texture, flavour, acid content, firmness, storage stability and disease tolerance. We plan to expand these efforts over the next five years by validating and deploying a more advanced method of predictive pre-screening of material for complex traits, such as tolerance to fire blight and scab, called genomic selection. Using this selection method, we will bring further efficiencies to our breeding program to develop successful varieties for apple producers.  

Vineland’s Test 2 (T2) block contains 107 selections that are replicated and grafted on various rootstock (M9, G41 or B9). Each year fruit from up to 25 trees in the T2 block is profiled by Vineland’s trained sensory panel and described for aroma, flavour, taste and texture characteristics. Apples are grouped based on flavour profile due to differences in characteristics such as high versus low sweet, acid tastes and also crisp, juicy versus soft or mealy textures. Data from the trained sensory panel is then used to predict consumer liking of Vineland’s selections. This data is critical to ensure that our breeding program continues to advance apples with high consumer appeal.

This year we expanded our testing program by adding four additional selections at grower sites (Test 3) across Canada. In total, we now have eleven sites in Ontario, three in Quebec and two in Nova Scotia. Fruit from the 2021 plantings will be harvested this fall and will be evaluated for fruit quality characteristics. Tree performance will also be assessed.  Vineland is also excited about our recently announced collaboration with the Associated International Group of Nurseries (AIGN), a world leader in tree fruit intellectual property management. This new collaboration will advance apple variety development in our breeding program by combining Vineland’s multi-disciplinary research, innovation capabilities and intellectual property management skills with AIGN’s expertise in tree production and commercialization. AIGN will work closely with Vineland to contribute to the evaluation, selection and commercialization of new apple cultivars for Canadian consumers and beyond. We look forward to working with AIGN to maximize the impact of Vineland’s breeding program. For more information about our apple program, please contact Rachael LeBlanc.

This research has been supported by Ontario Apple Growers through the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada AgriScience Program and through the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs-University of Guelph Partnership Program. 

Rachael LeBlanc

Research Scientist, Vineland Research & Innovation Centre