300 x 300 appel met kinderhand

Bitter pit is a disorder which can severely affect the economic value of the fruit, reducing it to 40% of the production price. The incidence and severity of bitter pit are affected by variety, but within a variety bitter pit is related to harvest date and climate; in susceptible varieties, harvest of less mature fruit can result in higher bitter pit incidence, as can excessive pruning or high temperatures and/or droughty conditions during the growing season[1]. Indeed, there is evidence that over thinning can increase the likelihood of bitter pit[2].

Bitter pit has been noted to have extreme financial implications (Ferguson and Watkins, 1989). In years with high disorder incidence, as was the 2007 harvest, the percentage of fruit affected may be as high as 30%, causing economical losses to the sector greater than €84M.

Currently, many farmers treat all apples with a calcium spray that, at roughly 430€ per Ha[3], not including labor costs, is not only expensive, but also, not completely effective. This means that this money may be spent to prevent some apples from getting bitter pit when they would not have it anyway, while it will also fail to stop all apples from developing the disease. By examining the genes, the test to be developed in the AppleGenie project will be able to identify whether the apples will develop bitter pit, allowing both farmers to take the appropriate, targeted action on those apples that need it.

For a European SME, with an average of 5 hectares per farmer, applying the traditional method will mean costs of 2,680€. Using the new test, at a cost of 195€ for one test, the farmer can decide if this treatment is required. As approximately 30% of apples are prone to bitter pit, this could reduce the cost of treatment, on average per farmer, to 860€ making the total cost 1088€, or a 60% reduction in costs.

Additionally, with this information it will also be possible for the farmer to assure his client (e.g. a packing house) that his product will not develop bitter pit. He will therefore be able to sell the apples for a higher price. As bitter pit can effectively make the apple stock worthless (suitable only for juices which return approximately 40% of the production price), the packing houses are willing to pay a considerable margin for this assurance, with evidence suggesting that premiums of up to 5€ per tray[4]. This margin is currently paid to those farmers who have a low incidence of bitter pit. As many SMEs cannot afford to spray their crop with calcium, they end up taking the risk that it will not develop bitter pit. This means that they lose clients and earn a significantly reduced fee. Being able to identify those apples that will develop bitter pit, SMEs can take action, either by applying calcium to those specific apples or, if it is more economical, to sell the batches separately. This is a considerable incentive for SMEs.

Storage is essential to the economics of apple farming, as it means that apple prices can be smoothed out across the year, rather than dropping dramatically after harvesting when the market is flooded with apples. Effective storage is also vital to protect the market from imports. However, as bitter pit is a disease which may only appear during storage, being able to identify those apples which may develop bitter pit will mean that packing houses can choose to sell those apples first. These apples would then not need to be stored and could be sold without being treated, reducing treatment costs.

Many of the benefits of identifying bitter pit for packers are similar to those of the farmer. Currently many packing houses choose to treat all apples with a calcium bath in order to reduce the effects of bitter pit. This also necessities the application of fungicides which are costly, environmentally damaging and inorganic. By targeting specifically those apples that are susceptible it would be possible to reduce these costs by over 60% for packing houses.

Export trade is also vital to the economics of apple farming, as it allows exporters to benefit from high prices in the Southern hemisphere while reducing the supply to the European market, ensuring prices are maintained. Many packing houses export apples to the southern hemisphere, in a trade worth 1,2 billion[5] in 2010, with Italy alone exporting apples worth more than 700 million Euros. Trade standards mean that exported apples cannot contain any form of infirmity. The OECD trade standards specify that apples cannot be exported with any signs of bitter pit[6]. Unfortunately, it is often the case that bitter pit does not appear until the apples arrive at their destination, meaning the exporter not only suffers the loss of the value of the apples, but also the cost of transportation. Giving packing houses, farmers and exporters the ability to predict the susceptibility to bitter pit would be a valuable tool for all of the actors to reduce such wasteful and uncompetitive practices.


 

[1]http://www.ba.ars.usda.gov/hb66/027apple.pdf

[2] Crop Load Affects Mineral Concentrations and Incidence of Bitter Pit in ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ Apple Fruit J. AMER. Soc. HORT. SCI. 117(3):373-376. 1992.

Ferguson and Watkins, 1989; Ferguson, I.B. and C.B. Watkins. 1989. Bitter pit in apple fruit. Hort. Rev.11:289–355

Marlow and Loescher, 1984 Marlow, G.C. and W.H. Loescher. 1984. Watercore. Hort. Rev. 6:189–251. ).

[3] Based on 10 treatments, at an average price of 43€

[4] Carew, R and Smith, E, (2004) The value of apple characteristics to Wholesalers in western Canada: A hedonic approach

[5] FAOStat 2012

[6] OECD (2010) International Standards for Fruit and Vegetables – Apples pg 10. “Apples must be free from disease or serious deterioration. Apples showing the following defects are therefore excluded: (b) bitter pit