Top-performing orchards start with a blue-label investment. By Anna Mouton and Rachel Kriel.
What is the Deciduous Fruit Plant Certification Scheme?
The Deciduous Fruit Plant Certification Scheme is a voluntary certification programme for plant material. The Scheme is managed by Plant Improvement South Africa. Participation is mandatory for the registration of new or improved varieties or clones. Only participating Plant Improvement Organisations can apply for certification of propagation material and only registered nurseries can produce certified trees.
Participants register their facilities and have to comply with specified standards of traceability and tree quality. Facilities and plant material are tested and inspected regularly to provide independent verification of compliance. Nursery trees that meet all the requirements of the Scheme are certified — indicated by a blue label.
Who is Plant Improvement South Africa?
Plant Improvement South Africa is a non-profit that manages plant improvement and certification on behalf of the Deciduous Fruit Plant Improvement Association and the Vine Improvement Association. The Deciduous Fruit Plant Improvement Association deals with pome and stone fruit. For more information, visit the PlantSA website at www.plantsa.co.za.
What is covered by certification?
- The tree can be traced back to the plants from which it was propagated.
- The tree meets the prescribed physical standards.
- The plant material has been tested or screened for specific diseases and pests.
- Both the scion and the rootstock are correctly identified.
- The tree is or is not subject to plant breeder’s rights.
- The variety or clone was evaluated for at least three years under local conditions to ensure that it is distinct, unique, and stable.
How does the Scheme work in practice?
Plant Improvement Organisations are registered under the Deciduous Fruit Plant Certification Scheme. They import, breed, or select new or improved varieties or clones.
Clones or varieties can be registered under the Scheme if the variety
- is listed on the Official Varietal List.
- has completed a three-year period of local clone evaluation.
- complies with the phytosanitary requirements of the Scheme.
- has nucleus plants established and maintained in a registered nucleus facility.
Propagation material of registered clones is multiplied in a foundation nursery. The resulting plants are established in registered foundation and mother units. Propagation material from these units qualify for certification if the unit meets the required standards; the trees in the unit were inspected as prescribed; and the trees test free of harmful viruses as prescribed.
The foundation and mother units are sampled and inspected throughout the year:
- In spring, samples are collected for virus testing and flowers are inspected for deviating trees.
- In summer, stone-fruit trees are inspected for varietal control.
- In autumn, pome-fruit trees are inspected for varietal control, and all trees are inspected for pests and diseases.
- In winter, physical and phytosanitary inspections, and collection control are performed.
Every year, participating nurseries register units where nursery trees will be propagated. The Plant Improvement Organisations provide certified rootstock and scion plant material to nurseries.
Certified nursery trees are marked with blue labels. Nursery trees qualify for certification if
- the nursery unit meets the required standards.
- the quantity of plant material established corresponds to the quantity issued by the Plant Improvement Organisations.
- the plants are true to type as indicated on the planting plan.
- colour codes are affixed correctly for the different rootstock and scion varieties.
- the plants are free of pests and diseases.
- the plants meet the prescribed physical standards.
- the plants show no signs of physiological or mechanical damage.
For more about the Deciduous Fruit Plant Improvement Scheme, contact manager Rachel Kriel at email@example.com.
What are the financial benefits of certification?
A study performed in 2016 calculated the financial benefits of establishing orchards with certified trees. The researchers took account of production losses — reduced fruit quality and yields — due to diseases that are covered by the Scheme. They modelled the likely spread of known viruses over the lifetime of an orchard and made provision for increased impacts during stressful years.
The total loss over 25 years due to apple mosaic virus was as much as R2.8 million per hectare for apples, and R1.6 million for pears. The loss due to apple chlorotic leaf spot virus was up to R3.1 million per hectare for apples, and R2.1 million for pears.
Losses due to prune dwarf virus in plums were up to R1.5 million per hectare, and losses due to Prunus necrotic ringspot virus were as much as R1.7 million per hectare.
These losses can be avoided by establishing orchards with certified trees.
The researchers also discussed the financial losses that occur when trees turn out not to perform as expected for their cultivar due to deviation or reversion. This can lead to problems such as poor colour or later harvest dates. Parent stock of certified plant material is inspected to ensure that trees which show deviation or reversion are eliminated.
The study was performed by plant physiologist Stephanie Midgley, agricultural economist Johann Boonzaaier, and plant pathologist Meagan Vermeulen.