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A Taste of Things to Come!

Teagasc has established a new apple research orchard at its crops research centre in Oak Park, Carlow. This new research programme represents a fundamental step in developing the apple sector in Ireland. Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Pippa Hackett recently visited the orchard as the first harvest of Apples were being gathered.

A Taste of Things to Come!
Pictured from L to R: Dermot Callaghan, Head of Teagasc Horticulture Department; Alberto Ramos Luz, Fruit Research Officer, Teagasc and Senator Pippa Hackett, Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity on her recent visit to the new apple research orchard at Teagasc Crops Research Centre in Oak Park, Carlow.

It is hoped that this research could be the catalyst for the development of the dessert apple (eating apple) sector in Ireland. The domestic retail market for dessert apples is worth €135 million with over 90% currently filled by imports, so the potential for import substitution with locally grown apples is there. The Irish climate is suitable for growing apples, and there are new varieties and technologies available for evaluation and adoption in an Irish climate. The consumer has a positive perception of Irish apples, and there is favourable consumer behaviour towards healthy eating and short supply chains.  

If the sector is to develop then, the right choice of variety, rootstock and training system will be fundamental to achieving high yield efficiency, high fruit quality and consequently good profitability for existing and new fruit growers.  

The research programme is expected to deliver essential preliminary data for the future recommendation of apple tree genotypes with high productive potential and fruit quality under Irish conditions, as well as to future proposal of a modern and high-efficiency production model to achieve high yields, high fruit quality with reduced labour costs.  

With this, the development of the apple sector could:

  • Be increased by approximately €30 million per annum at farm gate
  • Substitute substantial imports with Irish eating apples
  • Offer diversification options for other horticulture and crop producers
  • Provide potential for offsetting CO2 emissions.

Speaking during the visit, Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity, Senator Pippa Hackett, welcomed this new research saying; “This new apple research project at Oak Park will help to underpin future potential development in a sector worth €135 million, the vast majority of which is currently taken up by imports. It is a small part of the larger horticulture sector which is a key focus of mine. I am delighted to have secured a total package of €14.35 million for the sector for the year ahead. We continue to progress the delivery of the National Strategy for Horticulture setting out a vision for the sector for the next five years.”

Director of Teagasc, Professor Frank O’Mara said; “There are no short cuts when it comes to developing the apple sector.  We start at the beginning where the science behind modern apple varieties and production systems are evaluated in an Irish context so that we can play our part in creating an enabling environment for the sector to expand. We have recruited a new research officer, Alberto Ramos Luz to run the programme and invested resources in the orchard, lab facilities and equipment and I am looking forward to seeing the fruits of this new research programme.”

This new apple research programme will provide opportunities for the sector to develop value added opportunities in juices, fermented beverages, prepared consumer foods and waste valorisation.

Fruit Research Officer with Teagasc, Alberto Ramos Luz said; “a study with high scientific rigor is necessary comparing all possible training systems, considering planting density, cultivars and rootstocks, in order to identify the best options for Irish conditions.  While we are at the beginning in terms of building the research programme, I am excited to unlock the potential of new varieties and technologies for Irish apple production systems”.