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Tuesday, December 06, 2022

IFG CEO on how the fruit industry is using technology to adapt to climate change

The team at International Fruit Genetics (IFG) is no stranger to ‘optimizing’ crops. The Bakersfield, California-based company uses natural breeding techniques to come up with its own varieties, which it then licenses to growers and fruit brands.

Founded in 2001 by fruit geneticist and former US agricultural researcher David Cain, IFG set out on a mission to develop varieties of sweet and large table grapes – culminating in the creation of its flagship Cotton Candy grape, which went on sale in 2011. went away.

Recently, IFG has been tackling a new and more pressing challenge for the fruit industry: climate change.

Ahead of the company’s planned sale to AM Fresh and its merger with private equity-backed Specialty New Fruit Licensing, its team has come up with a range of ‘low-chill’ cherry varieties that can thrive in warmer climates; along with other technologies and practices to assist its licensors. SNFL counts veteran agrifood private equity firm Paine Schwartz as a shareholder.

AFN chatted with IFG CEO Andy Higgins about the impact of climate change on the global fruit industry – and how players like IFG are responding to the challenge with technology.


AFNIn general, how would you say that climate change is affecting global fruit production?

Climate change is affecting many different regions around the world, and climate change is affecting fruit production. Unprecedented heat in the western US and Canada has threatened severe droughts and severe wildfires. Smoke from fires has contributed to low levels of light, smoke damage to crops, and moisture retention during prime production times of the year.

climate change is also [causing] An increase in the intensity and frequency of rain outside the normal season. For example, heavy rains in recent years have significantly affected crops in Chile, right at the time of harvesting.

We look at climate change affecting where and how crops can be grown effectively. This affects the locations where products can be grown today and in the future, affecting the ability to meet retail and wholesaler programs.

Growers are increasingly using more complex production techniques to deliver consistently good quality crops, including increased use of crop cover, a form of protected agriculture. As such, IFG is breeding new varieties of fruit that will grow in warm climates and in climates with increased rainfall and humidity during critical periods of production.

As the planet turns, it’s likely we’ll see less fruit production. IFG focuses on breeding varieties that ensure consistent harvest in the changing climate.

For example: some regions of Europe have begun to move wine vineyards further north or at higher altitudes, to adapt to the planet’s changing climate.

Fruits and vegetables are living organisms that respond to changes in hot and cold temperatures. Anything that makes a significant change to the environment will have a significant impact on agriculture. It is not only about extreme hot and cold weather or having enough water for irrigation, but also about individual events, such as floods, storms and wildfires that damage entire fields of crops in one fell swoop. .

AFNWhat are the biggest challenges facing IFG and other fruit growers in California as a result of climate change? And how are you overcoming them?

Unprecedented heat in the western US and Canada has created severe droughts and the risk of severe wildfires – which can result in smoke damage, loss of quality due to lighting, and other considerations.

From breeding to growing and packing, different efforts are being made to combat the effects of climate change. On the breeding side, efforts are being made to develop varieties that can tolerate rain and heat at different stages of the production cycle. IFG is working on this for our table grape and cherry crops, and other fruit breeders are working on the same for crops like apples and pears.

In addition, IFG is working to understand and incorporate the importance of protected agriculture in sustainable crop production. These efforts may be enough to protect against hot or cold temperatures or drought, but will not protect crops from being destroyed by extreme weather events such as wildfires, hurricanes or floods.

AFNQ: How do you see commercial fruit growers adopting new practices and technology to try to address these issues?

Table grapes themselves are more heat tolerant, and IFG’s breeding program has used the most recent heatwave to screen our varieties for heat tolerance. However, there is still a maximum amount of heat that fruits can tolerate, and as climate change continues to alter the environment, it will affect global agriculture.

IFG is unique in that we have ‘shoes on the ground’ in every growing region around the world. We have technical managers in each country who work to identify any new practices or techniques that can be used to produce the best grapes and cherries. These growing recommendations are then provided to our licensees in each of their respective areas to ensure that we are helping our partners be as successful as possible.

We also use phenolic stages, and work with reproduction to replace or reduce the influence of external factors during major growth periods. For example, an earlier maturing raisin variety will allow the raisin crop to be harvested and processed before exposure to late summer rains.

As well as protecting their crops from the rapidly changing environment, growers are also implementing new irrigation system technology to be more efficient. They use remote and computer controlled soil moisture sensors, reflective covers to reduce water evaporation, shade nets to protect crops from excessive sunlight and even rain covers to protect fruits from rain storms. are for.

AFN: Can you tell a little more about ‘Low Chill’ Cherry – how it works, how it was made and where did the concept come from?

Traditionally, growing a great cherry has required a lot of chill hours. Most cherry trees require 800 to 1,000 hours of temperature ranging from 35° to 42° F. [during their growth to produce optimal fruit.] IFG has created such varieties of cherries which are less than half the requirement.

The second aspect is the selection and crossbreeding of varieties that can survive the high heat of the months; And ideally, pick out fruits that ripen earlier than other varieties. In addition, we want varieties that are less vulnerable to stress damage from rising temperatures in May and early June.

We [also want to] Make sure the fruit has the firm texture consumer demand, good taste, an attractive appearance, and the ability to withstand weeks in shipping containers bound for various regions around the world.

The paternity is quite diverse in the breeding program, and the low frigidity trait comes from the tropics. potato Species that require frequent crossing into materials with high fruit quality and producer-friendly orchard adaptability.

We are continuing our evaluation to determine which [of our varieties] Will consistently produce excellent fruit, especially in the warmest of cherry growing regions. We already have successful commercial plantings in many countries such as Chile, South Africa, Spain and Australia, of which 10 of our [intellectual property] protected varieties.

AFNWhat do you think are the implications of ‘low chill’ fruit varieties for growers and consumers?

Due to climate change and recent developments in fruit breeding programs, the industry is seeing an increase in planting in areas where some fruit varieties were not previously grown at all, as farmers try to avoid planting in high-risk areas . Jalisco in Mexico or Piura table grapes in Peru are examples of region development, and this type of growth is also evident in other crops, including blueberries and cherries, more recently with the introduction of less cold winter varieties.

For cherries, new low-chill varieties offer us the opportunity to grow and expand cherry growth in regions such as Israel and Egypt – regions not traditionally known for cherries.

If summer or drought is too hard for production, growers will take on the heavy task of moving their fruit to new areas. Conversely, if the region cannot provide the required refrigerant requirements or a safe water supply, we expect growers to move to non-traditional areas, as is evident in areas where IFG’s cherry varieties are expanding. .

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