Prairie apple growers small, but new varieties expected to boost fledgling industry

It’s unclear whether prairie apple growers can produce enough apples to support the region’s burgeoning cider industry.

Saskatchewan’s 20 commercial growers produce apples on 100 acres, giving it the strongest apple sector on the Prairies.

Forrest Scharf, Saskatchewan Agriculture’s fruit crops specialist, said the University of Saskatchewan now conducts breeding and crosses, which have produced many of the varieties that grow on the Prairies, such as Prairie Sensation.

The university is looking at a new rootstock that is more resistant to fire blight, which will help determine how the industry continues in the province.

“They’ve also got a bunch of new varieties that were, I think, mainly crosses between Honey Crisp and some of the better selections that were already out there. So when those are released, then, you know, I think the industry will be a bit stronger and probably grow,” said Scharf.

He said the industry is growing at a moderate rate.

The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority’s pricing policy may also affect sector expansion.

The SLGA’s preferential markup for cottage wine and cider production is limited to 45,000 litres, but producers say cider must be produced in larger amounts to be economical.

Scharf said there would be more potential for the apple sector to grow to support the cider industry if the SLGA raised the cap.

Apples need long, warm summers to build up sugars and build colour, as well as well-drained, neutral PH soil and a good water source.

Manitoba’s apple production is mostly driven by hobby farmers and their 25 acres, said Anthony Mintenko, the province’s food crop specialist.

Commercial production is small, but there is demand for apples and added-value apple products.

Most of the apples grown in Manitoba are old varieties developed by Agriculture Canada. Newer varieties are available from Minnesota, local nurseries and the U of S.

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