New Zealand apple and pear breeder Allan White is retiring this week, after spending 42 years developing some of the world’s most popular varieties.
Envy was voted America’s favourite apple this year, outpolling rivals such as Granny Smith, Honeycrisp and Fuji in a competition run by the US Apple Association. Jazz and Pacific Rose have claimed the prize in previous years. White was the lead breeder in the development programme for all three varieties (Envy, Jazz and Pacific Rose). He also established the breeding programme that produced the ground-breaking Piqa Boo and Reddy Robin red-skinned pears, which combine the characteristics of Asian and European varieties.
White joined Plant & Food Research (then New Zealand’s Department of Scientific and Industrial Research) in 1975 and was appointed its first official apple and pear breeder in 1981 when New Zealand’s export apple boom was gathering pace. He found most breeders at that time were trying to find plant and disease resistance within existing commercial varieties, which didn’t always produce good quality fruit.
Plant & Food’s Research’s general manager for science and new cultivar innovation, Dr Kieran Elborough, said White’s great contribution was to start afresh with a three-tiered approach. He collected old varieties to preserve biodiversity, then he developed parent stock with desired characteristics and finally combined them to develop commercial cultivars, according to Elborough.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Allan’s focus on high quality fruit with good eating characteristics played a key role in the success of New Zealand apples on the world stage,” said Elborough. “It’s my pleasure to thank Allan for his terrific legacy at Plant & Food Research and his contribution to the industry at large.”