In this article we’re looking at some of the horticultural crops – specifically Apple and Kiwi, the former which is one of the most widely exported of fruits, and the latter which is catching up in a big way in the international market. But first, the apple…
Having originated in Central Asia, apples have been around for thousands of years in Asia and Europe – and its wild ancestor still around. Turkey was the centre of diversity of the apple, and as it spread, so has its fruits improved through selection over thousands of years. The apple is one of the earliest horticultural crops to be cultivated on earth. The winter apples, especially, that are picked in late autumn, have been an important food in Asia and Europe for millennia.
For horticultural cultivation, ‘cultivars’, or cultivated varieties of apple trees are propagated by grafting onto rootstocks, because the trees that develop from seeds are simply too large. Currently there are about 7,500 such known cultivars of apples, resulting in a range of desired characteristics. This makes it possible to grow different cultivars for different purposes such as eating raw, cooking and cider production. Apart from that, the fruits from various cultivars also come in a range of sizes. Commercial growers aim to produce an apple that is 7.0 to 8.3 cm in diameter, going by market preference. But for the apple to have become one of the key players of the multibillion dollar fruit industry, the apple cultivars went through the process of being introduced to North America. Apple cultivars bought as seed from Europe were spread along native American trade routes, as well as cultivated on colonial farms. The degree of proliferation of apple cultivars in North America could be testified by the fact that in 1845, the United States apple nursery catalogue sold 350 of the “best” cultivars. This showed the rise of new North American cultivars by the early 19th century. In the 20th century, irrigation projects in Eastern Washington began and triggered the development of the multi-billion dollar fruit industry, of which apple is the leading product. Most of the 7,500 available cultivars are bred for eating fresh (dessert apples), though some are cultivated specifically for cooking or producing cider. The popular cultivars come out with fruit that is soft and crisp, with colourful skin and the absence of russeting. Modern apples are sweeter than their old cultivars, and we also see that popular tastes in apples are changing over time. It is also an important ingredient in many desserts, such as apple pie, apple crumble and apple cake. Also, it is used to produce apple jelly, sauces, and even added to meat dishes.
When it comes to the storage of plucked fruit, frost proof cellars were used during winter. However, after the 20th century, when transportation improved, the necessity for storage was replaced by the capacity to transport it in truckloads. Again, in the 21st century, new, long-term storage mechanisms became popular, as ‘controlled atmosphere’ facilities (with high humidity, low oxygen and controlled carbon dioxide levels) became available to keep apples fresh year round.
Worldwide, there is an estimated 75 billion tonnes of apples produced, with China topping the charts at 36 billion tonnes, or roughly half the commercial production. Until recently, China was also the biggest exporter, until overtaken by Poland. Russia is the biggest importer, importing mainly from Poland. The international trade in apple juice is also very high. China is again the largest supplier, with Poland at second place. Over recent years, apple trade has changed. The bulk of world trade, however, still finds its place through EU countries.
From the discussion on the apple, we come to a rather plain-looking fruit, the kiwi, also known as Chinese gooseberry. A native crop of north-central and eastern China, it is a fuzzy brown coloured fruit with a fleshy, pale green interior. It was in the 20th century that its cultivation spread from China to New Zealand, where the first commercial plantings occurred. It’s here that it acquired the name ‘kiwifruit’, for greater market appeal. Sooner or later, countries other than China and New Zealand picked it up- a key country is Italy, which is now ranked second after China in kiwi production.
Kiwifruit can be grown in most temperate climates with adequate summer heat, a contributing reason why production spread. Again, in the case of Kiwi, propagation among the cultivars occurs asexually by grafting onto the rootstock, giving rise to various breeds which are used specifically for rootstock, for fruit bearing and as pollinators. Kiwi fruit is picked by hand, and commercially grown on sturdy support structures, as it can produce several tonnes per hectare. These are generally equipped with a watering system for irrigation and frost protection in the spring. Kiwi fruits that are harvested when firm will ripen when properly stored for long periods. This allows the fruit to be sent to the market for up to 8 weeks after harvest.
China is the largest producer of kiwifruit, growing almost four times as much as second-place Italy, according to data of 2014. Other major producers include New Zealand, Chile and Greece. High in nutritive and medicinal value, it is a rich source of vitamin B and C, and minerals like phosphorous, potassium and calcium. Kiwi fruits can be eaten fresh or combined with other fruits in salads and desserts. It is also used to prepare squash and wine.
Global sales from kiwifruit exports by country amounted to USD 2.5 billion in 2016. Overall, the value of kiwifruit exports was up by an average 20.1% for all exporting countries since 2012. Among continents, Oceanian countries (mainly New Zealand) accounted for the highest dollar worth of exported kiwi fruit. In the second place were European exporters at 40%, while a small 7.1% of worldwide kiwifruit shipments originated from Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though there are countries such as China, Hong Kong, Iran and New Zealand which show a rise in export, there are others which have posted a decline, like Lithuania, France, the Netherlands, the United States, and Chile. But looking at the geographical distribution of kiwi growing countries – one thing is clear: Kiwi has created a global demand for itself, way beyond the days when it was just ‘Chinese gooseberry’.