Conversations between Antje Majewski and:

Apple farmer, commercial apple plantation in Ourika Valley, Morocco

Karen Albert-Hermann, architect and part-time farmer at Neuhof, Wredenhagen, Germany

Sotirios Arvanitis, gardening advisor and horticultural committee, Gerd Czarnowski, pensioner and hobby gardener; Allotment Association Rehberge, Berlin, Germany

Aidos Baltayev, CEO at The Responsible Entrepreneurs Company LLC, Astana, Kazakhstan

Eckart Brandt, organic apple farmer, curator of a collection of old apple varieties, author of numerous books on apples, pomologist, Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany

Jimmie Durham, artist, Jimmie Durham’s studio in Berlin, Germany

Marta Dygowska, Dr. Alicja Kujawska, Martyna Urbańczyk, members of the Food Cooperative Łódź / Kooperatywa Spożywcza w Łodzi, Poland

Sergei Filatov, park ranger; Ainur Jamantaeva, park administrator, Zhongar-Alatau State National Nature Park, Kazakhstan

Dr. habil. Henryk Flachowsky, molecular geneticist and former coordinator for the German National Fruit Genebank; Dr. Monika Höfer, curator for the German National Fruit Genebank; Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), German Federal Research Center for Cultivated Plants, Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit Crops, Dresden-Pillnitz, Germany

Roland Gaber, Bernd Kajtna, Johannes Maurer, Arche Noah Foundation, Schiltern, Austria

Grzegorz Hodun, genebank curator, pomologist, author of publications on old apple varieties; Department of Pomology, Gene Resources and Nurseries, Research Institute of Pomology and Floriculture, Skierniewice, Poland

Kamil Jeziorak, Prof. Andrzej Przybyła, apple researchers and breeders, pomologists at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences SGGW, Department of Pomology

Bert Krämer, organic apple farmer at Bio-Hof Bölingen, an organic farm in Graftschaft, Germany. Demonstration farm for ecological farming methods in the German Federal Republic, farm for testing new breeds.

Erzhan Ashim Kitzhan-uly Oralbekov, environmentalist, activist for the “Save Kok Zhailau” movement, Ile-Alatau National Park, Almaty, Kazakhstan

Markus Kobelt, apple breeder, founder of Lubera, a nursery and mail-order seller of gardening supplies, Buchs, Switzerland and Bad Zwischenahn, Germany

Vladimir Kolbintsew, biologist and natural scientist, Kazakhstan

Sergej Kuratov, Chairman of the Green Salvation Ecological Society, Almaty, Kazakhstan

Adam Miłoszewski, Robert Pierściński, employee and manager of Binder International, Smaki Tarczyna apple juice factory in Tarczyn, Poland

Anatoliy Mishenko, forestry expert, Institute of Ecology and Stable Development, Almaty, Kazakhstan

Marian Orzeszek, industrial apple farmer, Michrow, Poland

Caty Schernus, owner of Apfelgalerie, a shop for apple varieties, and author of Das Apfelbuch Berlin-Brandenburg: Alte Sorten wiederentdeckt [The Apple Book Berlin-Brandenburg: Rediscovering Old Varieties], Berlin, Germany


  1. How many apple varieties are there?
  2. How are apples grown, traded, and processed?
  3. What is a “variety” actually?
  4. Where do the wild apples grow?
  5. How do new varieties emerge?
  6. Can genetic engineering solve the problems faced by apple farmers?
  7. The freedom of apples



  1. How many varieties of apples are there?

Open-air market, Belleville, Paris, France

Vendor: Cheaper! Cheaper! Gift! Gift! One euro a plate! Plate one euro! Just one! One euro per plate! Cheaper! Cheaper! Gift! Gift!


Supermarket, Belleville, Paris, France

Vendor: This is the Golden … and this is the Gala. Over here is the Pink Lady, the most expensive one, and here are the red apples … and the Granny Smith … the green apples.


Outdoor market, Guangzhou, China

Antje: Where are they produced?

Xu Shuxian: From Shanxi, a place called Baishui. The shiny red ones are called Gala apples. They are from New Zealand.

Old lady: Seven yuan is too much.

Shuxian: This one is called “Golden Apple.”

Antje: “Golden Apple”… like Golden Delicious?

Shuxian: Actually it means “golden and handsome.”

Antje: Aha, golden and handsome. Yes, this must be the Golden Delicious.


Supermarket, Japan  

Vendor: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” as you say. Apples are very healthy. We sell many varieties. On the left-hand side, you see the Fuji-san apple and on the right, the Jona-san (Jonagold) apple.


Apple plantation in Ourika Valley, Morocco

Apple farmer: There are many different varieties of apples. Here we grow the Gala, the Delicious, and the Golden—those three we cultivate in the region. Three brands.

Antje: Only these three?

Apple farmer: Yes, but you can find more. Five or six, even.

Antje: How long have you been cultivating them?

Apple farmer: Oh, a long time, almost twenty years. Before that, they came from Europe. Before that, we didn’t have apples.


Food Cooperative Łódź / Kooperatywa Spożywcza w Łodzi, Poland

Antje: Just for fun—how many apple varieties do you know? How many come to mind?

Alicja Kujawska: Kosztela, Szara Reneta, Reneta Złota, Antonóvka, Papierówka, Lobo; others like Jonagored, Champion, Malinówka … but I do not like the latter. There are also those green monstrosities that I don’t know the name of, but they are frightfully shiny.

Marta Dygowska: From the Netherlands. Yes, you can also buy apples that have “love” written on them; I do not know how they do this.


Allotment Association Rehberge, Berlin, Germany

Gerd Czarnowski: This is a Cox’s Orange.[1] It’s a great apple, a very old variety. It tastes good

and keeps well in storage. One of the best German apple varieties. This old variety here is the

Russet. It also keeps well. It’s good for baking cake. It’s a little tart, but it’s still well justified.


Warsaw University of Life Sciences SGGW, Department of Pomology, Warsaw, Poland

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: Renetta Giaskowa is very nice. It was cultivated particularly in Greater Poland. It’s very famous, especially for Christmas because the fruit are red and have a very nice smell and taste. It is excellent for the Christmas tree.


Apfelgalerie, shop for apple varieties, Berlin

Caty Schernus: Here we are in the apple gallery. It’s a shop for regional products. Everything

we sell comes from Brandenburg, mostly from my parents’ farm in Frankfurt an der Oder.

That’s where they grow the apples, but also pears and plums, strawberries and cherries. We sell them here in Berlin’s Schöneberg district. It’s important to grow the varieties that people know. Elstar, Gala, and Braeburn are very important for our shop. Pinova and Golden Delicious are also big sellers, but we also have a variety garden with a lot of old varieties. Some of the old varieties that are still somewhat known, like the Gravenstein or the Pineapple Renetta, for example, were regrafted by fruit farmer Thomas Bröcker, so we have a lot of those on offer as well. The estimate is that we still have about 2,000 varieties in Germany. They are not grown by industrial farmers, so you cannot buy them, because there have been cuts throughout history. In the 1950s, they tried to reduce the varieties grown in East Germany to very good, productive ones that would feed the people. In the 19th century, there was also a move to standardize the range, so there would be less confusion with too many different names of varieties.

Ribston Pippin is nice. The Ribston Pippin is a descendant of Cox’s Orange Pippin. And the Cox’s Orange was crossbred many times after that. The Rubinette, for example, is part Cox’s Orange.[2] It has a very nice aroma that you also find in the Ribston Pippin; it’s a very specific, fruity aroma. The Pineapple Renetta is a very old variety with a very nice aroma. It’s rather firm and tart at first. Now that it’s December, it has matured a bit. It’s less tart now, and less firm. Customers don’t appreciate those qualities that much. That’s why the old varieties often disappeared from the market; these days, apples have to be crunchy more than anything.


Neuhof, Wredenhagen, Germany

Karen Albert-Hermann: This apple tree isn’t that old. It was probably planted in GDR times. It’s a variety that I don’t like to eat, but it’s a pectin apple. With this you can make a gelling agent very quickly, and make jellies. Blackbirds pick at the apples. It’s crazy; this one’s half eaten. That way, they have bird feed almost until Christmas, until Advent. Recently Stefan, who is helping out here, told me that they eat the apples and then both the apples and the birds plop off of the tree together because they are so full.

This is the old Gravenstein. This is my precious. It’s probably eighty or ninety years old now and it ripens in August. It bears very juicy fruit, which also look beautiful. It really flowers like a veil, all white. The shape comes from storms, because every year, some part of it breaks off. I leave it all lying there. This one we have to save! We have to take a scion from it and preserve this variety for the future. Here you see the history of this tree. I’ve never seen it fully alive. When I got it, it was already broken off, with the trunk like this. It only exists in the bark that’s here. In winter, we feed the birds in it; it’s our feeding trough. It will remain lying like this, but over there, a new little tree sprouted from this broken branch. Now it’s grown so strong that it’s already yielding apples again. But it doesn’t have roots. It’s really just broken and fallen over. I’m saving it and keeping it. There’s still some strength running through this bark somehow, because it would have died otherwise.


Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany
Eckart Brandt
: Here you see a Martini and an Altländer Pfannkuchen [Altländer Pancake apple], and also a small Pineapple Renetta there. This one is called Peter Martens or e favorite apple of the Lower Elbe region, and also one of my favorites. It used to be very popular, and number one on the cultivation list until well into the 1970s. In the course of EU standardization, it was declared obsolete. Now only the occasional tree grows on some organic farms. I tried for decades to give it a new home in private gardens and meadow orchards. It’s really an all-purpose apple, a nice dessert apple, a little more tart of course, but nicely tasty at that. It’s good for storage until January and well suited for any kind of use. You can bake and cook with it, dry it, make jellies, juice and wine out of it.

Antje: How many varieties do you have?

Eckart Brandt: What do we have, maybe sixty …

Judith Bernhardt: Sixty, sixty-five …

Eckart Brandt: This is a part of the orchard that I initially set up in 1988. It represents mainly regional and local varieties from the Lower Elbe region that ripen in September and have to come off the tree now. When I rented this area in 1984, about 1.5 of the 6 ha were freshly-cleared farmland. This was actually the chance to go ahead with what I wanted to do. I had just discovered “old fruit varieties” for myself as a personal topic of interest. I began to plant the first old regional varieties on this piece of land and the one next to it. Soon I will give up all this land. I was the one to decide when to stop, so I said, “Once I turn sixty-seven, I’m done. I’ve already brought any important and essential varieties—everything I had here—to the safe ark. This isn’t my land, and my successor is already waiting. But he has no use for this because he farms on a quasi-industrial scale. He’s trying to sell large quantities commercially. What would he do with sixty to eighty varieties? He would have 100 kg of the one, 50 kg of the other variety, and 270 kg from a third … that’s absurd for the market if you can’t market it directly.

You shouldn’t get nostalgic about every single tree. For me, this is more about saving the diversity of varieties, making sure nothing that I have collected over the past thirty years gets lost. The trees don’t live forever anyway! These could live on for another few decades, but once they change hands, their time’s up.
Maybe we should have a look over there. Those are my favorite trees. They were planted in 1935. Anyone else would have felled them long ago, because they’re no longer commercially viable. But it’s a wonderful habitat for all kinds of animals to live in. You can also see that they lose their strength after eighty years … branches break off with the slightest wind. You can’t really work with them, because no picker or tree cutter dares to climb them any more. All life is finite somehow, and so is the life of an apple tree.

Antje: Yes, but essentially the life of the variety goes on. The tree continues to live. It has a kind of immortality that we don’t have—so long as we humans help.

Eckart Brandt: Yes, it’s actually a spread-out individual. The single tree dies at some point. To me, it’s nonsense to start any life-extending measures. When their time’s up, it’s up. And if you think this is great, you have to make sure something like this can still be seen somewhere, two generations on. My generation didn’t plant these trees, either. People actually used to plant these high stem trees for their grandchildren. That’s my approach in Helmste, too: to plant something that—with a little of luck, if things go well—will look like these here in twenty, forty, fifty years’ time, and then another person needs to come along to do something like that again.
We drive over to another plantation with much younger trees.

Eckart Brandt: We are now at Boomgarden Park Helmste. This is our new variety

preservation garden, where we planted the old regional varieties that I have been collecting over the past twenty-five years. So far we have about 300 varieties on 700 trees. What I’m doing here is a living gene pool. You could put it differently, of course. The association for the preservation of local traditions would say it’s about retaining our cultural treasures. Agriculture is culture too, isn’t it? You can phrase it this way or another, but when it comes to fruit trees, it is really necessary. You can’t just keep the seeds in a well-tempered gene bank like you do with other crops, and then sow them again whenever you need them. The seeds are useless. You need a real tree if the variety is to continue to exist.

Antje: When did they begin to classify them?

Eckart Brandt: In the 19th century, pomology tried to become a proper natural science. Of course they had to have verifiable criteria for sorting their objects. There were different systems. Most defined twelve to fifteen different apple families. Some terms are still used in the names of the varieties: Calville, Renetta, Rambour. A Renetta, for example, is a smallish, round and delicious dessert apple. This is the typical form for a Taubenapfel [Dove apple]: tapered like this. Here you already see a slightly violet tint. You can rub it off and then all the little lenticels become visible. These little white dots.

Searching online, I came across a French pomologist. He’s very impressive! He claims, with deep conviction, to have gathered all the available sources—from all over the world, most likely—and found, I don’t know, 11,785 apple varieties. That’s fantastic. He also published the lists. When you examine them, it gives you the creeps. He analyzed the different historical lists from different countries. He counted many varieties double or even triple, because he didn’t realize that this one is only a synonym for that apple, which is called so-and-so in this country and has a different name in another. So he’s already counted two. Vice versa, he counted varieties as one, which are in fact two or more. It just doesn’t add up! The number might actually be true, but nobody really knows how many varieties there are.


Department of Pomology, Gene Resources and Nurseries, Research Institute of Pomology and Floriculture, Skierniewice, Poland

Grzegorz Hodun: If you really want to gain in-depth knowledge about the old varieties, I must warn you that there are a great many of them and the task is not as simple as it may seem. I have been going on expeditions for over twenty years and gathered scions from the old varieties, bred and collected them. So far, I have managed to collect about 600 varieties of apple trees. This really is quite a lot, considering that most people are familiar with ten or at best twenty of the most popular varieties.

There are varieties that have been grown for centuries. We can virtually date them back to the introduction of vegetative propagation that made its way to Poland along with the first settlers or, to be more accurate, the first monasteries. It was there that breeding through grafting originated around the 11th or 12th century. This is also the period that most associate with the emergence of these old varieties, but the more widespread cultivation of fruit in home gardens and on meadows adjacent to homesteads actually dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Such orchards reached the height of their popularity at the beginning of the 20th century. Starting in the 1950s, meadow orchards underwent a steady decline and the old varieties were disappearing, partly because farmers withdrew them. A register of varieties was created that basically aimed at commercial orchards and contained varieties that were commercially feasible. Thankfully, over the past several years, we have witnessed a revival of these old varieties. They have become increasingly popular thanks to the fact that many people are starting to reminisce about the good old times when you could pick apples from the tree and delight in their taste, aroma, as well as the various preserves that you could make with them. Because most of the modern varieties are, in essence, dessert apples. When we look at the old varieties, some were only suited to cooking, and we often wonder why anyone would want to grow them. An example of this would be a variety that was grown solely for the purpose of making cider vinegar. It was very sour and therefore could not be eaten raw. Antonówka Półtorafuntowa, for example, is unrivalled when it comes to apple pie. There are also varieties that are good for pressing juice, like Reneta Kulona for example, which is great for eating raw as well as making juice, and it’s also suitable for drying.


Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany

Eckart Brandt: Germany is an apple country. It’s not really warm enough for pears. If you look at old pomologies (pomology is not only about apples, but also about the other fruit species) in France they always start with pears.[3] But all the most delicious pears, we can’t do them here; it’s not warm enough. They turn into wrinkly turnips here. And with plums and cherries, we don’t have much choice in terms of variety and shelf life; you can’t keep them all winter. With the apples, varieties like the Drei Jahre dauernde Lederapfel (The leather apple that lasts three years) make the rounds (laughs). They used to have varieties that they kept in an underground cellar from one year to the summer two years later.


Bio-Hof Bölingen organic farm, Graftschaft, Germany

Bert Krämer: You can cook compote to preserve the apples. We notice that with elderly people, they come and ask, “Is that an apple that stays very soft in the compote? Does it go brown? Is it very mushy or rather firm?” On the cake, too, some want an apple that’s more crisp when you bite into it and others want a very soft one. But that has nothing to do with old or new varieties—that depends on how the cellular structure responds to heating it. The whiteness of the flesh depends on how quickly it oxidizes in contact with the air.


Apfelgalerie, shop for apple varieties, Berlin, Germany

Caty Schernus: The apple didn’t have it that easy in Brandenburg. The farmers didn’t feel like planting fruit trees and caring for them. It’s high maintenance, you know … and then it wasn’t that easy for the farmers to get hold of the scions for grafting the trees in the first place, and that was costly, too. So basically it was dictated from above; farmers were obliged by law to plant a number of trees per year, but the law wasn’t easy to enforce in rural Mark Brandenburg. It took generations to plant those avenues, and a lot of them died due to lack of care or tree vandalizing.


Allotment Association Rehberge, Berlin, Germany

Sotirios Arvanitis: I’m working in the Allotment Association, first as the gardening advisor and second, I’m active in the horticultural committee, which means that I have to check on all the gardens. A garden colony means every person has the right to have a garden, … to rent it. It doesn’t matter if they are rich or poor.
Our association has been around for eighty-three years. Back then, someone had the idea to found an allotment colony on a military compound. This used to be East Prussian land, where the Prussian soldiers would come and shoot, sometimes daily. And then there was the great famine after World War I, and people desperately wanted to be able to feed themselves. So there was a first row set up in the north, sixty plots in total. There are pictures in the Rehberge subway station, right and left. What was it like in our colony back then? One of them shows something special: “Great Harvest Festival on Sunday!” Big posters … that one is from 1920, 1925. They didn’t have cars then, just carts and bikes. All the little hills you see here now appeared after World War II: that’s nothing but rubble from all the ruined houses—the hills of Rehberge are simply the wreckage of North Berlin. Grandma had her garden, left it to her daughter or her children. Then the children took over, and so we have a lot of gardens that have been in the same name for over eighty years! I know a lot of families who’ve been with us from the start, where the tree was planted by their great-grandpa.

Of course, everyone works nowadays. A lot of people still plant vegetables. It’s important that a certain area of the garden is used for crops like apple trees, plums or what have you. We still have a lot of people working with apples; they make jams. My wife, for example, has more than 140 jars of jam at home, of compote and so on … Why should you go and buy jam? Why should you have to go and buy applesauce when you have a tree in the garden with 100 kg of plums?

That’s nature … and whoever doesn’t want to deal with nature is lazy. The future without nature, can you imagine that? No trees, no plants. That doesn’t exist. Today there are people who have children, and they’ve never shown them what a blossom is. What is a flower, what is a plant? Where does potato salad come from? Kids eat without knowing where it comes from. There are many in our colony who just get on with it, saying, “What do I need this for, I’ll just go and buy those twenty apples” … But the young families appreciate it. Yesterday I saw a mother with her two children who said, “So the flower is stung, and that’s how the blossom turns into an apple.” And then of course she did a little abracadabra: “It gets pregnant, and so on…” And then the kid asked: “But how? And where do they come from?” That’s an explanation. The children have to deal with nature.


Gert Czarnowski: Sure a garden like this is a lot of work. Of course it is. If you come out every day, you always have an hour or two of work to do.

Antje: And is it important for you to grow your own fruit and vegetables on your plot?

Gert Czarnowski: Certainly, yes! See for yourself: strawberries, tomatoes, pumpkin— everything that belongs in an allotment. We grow that ourselves, and eat it of course.
Antje: How many apples do you get from those trees you have here?

Gert Czarnowski: It varies. Every two years it’s very good and the next year it’s less, but it can be a hundredweight or more in a season.

Antje: And then you bake a nice apple cake?

Gert Czarnowski: Yep, exactly!


Binder International, Smaki Tarczyna apple juice factory, Tarczyn, Poland

Robert Pierściński: Apples are very popular, because they can be grown practically anywhere in the world. They are grown in the Americas, Europe, Asia, and North Africa, with the exception of the rest of Africa. Poland’s microclimate makes our country a perfect place to grow apples. The frosty winters and warm summers have done wonders for the taste of the apples grown here. So does the acidity of the soil, which has to do with the mineral content.

Adam Miłoszewski: Apple juice concentrate is also made from apples that are not grown on large orchards. They are picked from single trees that grow behind barns or along roads, and were planted a couple of generations ago. They were not grown on an industrial scale, but were there to provide fruit for the family. The trees have survived to this day, next to farmhouses, in the fields. Back in the old days, nursery farms were not as widespread as they are now, so there aren’t many of these old apple trees. The trees would grow tall but they bore very little fruit, and also in inconsistent amounts—every two years, they would have more fruit. When weather anomalies happen, like frost for example, these apples suffer the most and bear fruit only every four years. In 2012, an estimated 4 million tons of apples were grown. They say around 500,000 tons were picked from these kinds of wild-growing trees. Some estimates place the number at 300,000. But that number dropped significantly the following year, because these trees do not yield a consistent amount of fruit every year.

Aleksandra Jach: And who collects these apples?

Adam Miłoszewski: Farmers, children … anyone who wants to make a little money. These apples are sold at buying stations, so pretty much anyone who has access to them can pick and sell them.

Antje: What kind of apples from the older varieties were traditionally used to make apple juice?

Robert Pierściński: The first variety that comes to mind is Antonówka. The Cox variety was also popular. They were certainly more sour than those currently available in the market. Apples of this kind are highly valued by processing facilities. Poland, like many other European countries, uses mostly sweet apples for concentrate production. So it’s important to include these sour apples in the mix, so that the concentrate has a naturally sour taste.

Robert Pierściński: To put it in numbers: the average acidity of an apple at the beginning of the growing season is 6%, and 2% at the end of the growing season in January. The average acidity of the product we sell to the client is 3%. To balance all of that, we need those sour, wild apples.

Adam Miłoszewski: Recently, it became an option to add chemical compounds that make the concentrate more sour. EU regulations allowed this, unfortunately, so the sour apples we value so much can be substituted with certain chemicals.

Robert Pierściński: These old trees are usually forty to fifty years old, whereas modern orchards reach full capacity in their third year and are often cut down after five to eight years. Currently there is a trend to grow dwarf trees—dwarf orchards where trees are planted very close together. This allows us to reach yields in the range of seventy to 100 tons per hectare.

Let me tell you how the fruit and vegetable growing industry operates in Poland: it is a direct result of the agricultural model adopted following World War II. There were a large number of small farms, and this led to a lot of diversity in the crops that were grown. Then the People’s Republic of Poland tried to set up state-owned farms and cooperatives. This was somewhat similar in form to today’s farmers’ associations. The last forty to fifty years have seen a number of structural changes. The farms are becoming larger, farmers’ associations were established, and this made our farming industry more modern and homogenous. The associations’ main goal is to ensure a stable, high level of quality, and they encourage farmers to grow a single variety of apples. Growing large amounts of apples of a single variety and similar quality was seen as a way of changing the traditional character of Polish agriculture.

Adam Miłoszewski: Numerous apple varieties were created, to make them tastier, to make the trees bear more fruit. Prof. Pieniążek[4] at the Research Institute of Pomology and Floriculture in Skierniwice created the apple varieties that are the most optimal for growing in our country. However, the problem was that apple farmers in Poland took a different path than their Western European counterparts, who chose to grow varieties with a slightly different set of characteristics. Our apple growing industry was aimed at Eastern markets, and the consumers over there preferred red apples that were harder and had a more sour flavor. The effects of these differences are still evident today, as Polish apples are less popular on Western European markets than they are in Russia and other countries in the former Eastern Bloc.

Robert Pierściński: Western Europeans prefer green apples of the Golden variety, whereas Eastern Europeans go for red apples with a slightly sour taste, very different from those grown in Tyrol, Southern Germany, and Northern Italy.

Antje: What varieties of apples do you use to produce juice concentrate?

Adam Miłoszewski: Some juice manufacturers try to make their apple juice using a single variety of apples, which is why we can buy juice made from Champion apples, Antonówka apples, etc. But pretty much all apple processing companies buy the apples that are available on the market—starting from the day of the first harvest up to the end of the growing season. Most apple juice is made from all kinds of apple varieties that are available on the market.

Robert Pierściński: Most of the apples we process are of the Jonagold and Idared varieties.

Adam Miłoszewski: The Idared is a red apple variety that was developed by Prof. Pieniążek a long time ago, to be sold in the East. This variety has become the most popular among Polish apple growers. Other popular varieties include the Jonagold, the Jonagored, other varieties of the Jona, as well as the Champion, Gala, and Ligol varieties.


Apple plantation, Ourika Valley, Morocco

Farmer: The clients here buy when they know the form of the apple. The Gala and the Delicious, they’ve got a nice color. That’s why people like to buy these apples. They prefer the Golden, the Delicious, and the Gala. It’s all down to the market.

Antje: Okay. And are there any Granny Smiths at the market in Marrakesh?

Farmer: Yes, in the big supermarkets—yes, of course.


Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany

Eckart Brandt: If I set up a stall with even twenty to twenty-five varieties, some people get completely helpless. I had a customer in Hamburg who was completely lost facing the stall: “Oh, all these apples you have—don’t you have an Elstar?” “Yes,” I say, “for you I also have an Elstar.” For people like that, who flounder at the sight of so much diversity, I also have one crate of Elstar.

I see very different reasons behind the elimination of diversity. It’s a fact that so much diversity is hard to handle, or to trade. Trade has a great interest in reducing it to a manageable number of varieties. A variety that is easy to oversee, and to trade globally on a grand scale.

I market about 100 varieties per year. This can be a real challenge! Say you get back from a market on Saturday evening and you have the next one on Sunday, and at sundown you are running around the farmyard, going into the storage to fill up the crates. You have to make sure you don’t mess up and get the wrong ones, and pour the yellow apples into the crate with the other, similar-looking ones … but it wasn’t quite light enough to see. So you have to sort them all out again. It’s really inconvenient, this diversity! If I only have three varieties—a green one, a yellow one, a red one—it’s a lot easier. You can make money with them much more easily. So I’m all for continuing down this path. (Laughs).


Nursery and test orchard at Lubera, Bad Zwischenahn, Germany

Markus Kobelt: I support the basic idea of diversity; we all want variety. The hobby gardener doesn’t want the same thing his neighbor has as a matter of principle. That’s quite normal. On the other hand, it’s a fact that less works better in the big markets and chains, for commercial reasons … We make a living selling a small number of many different apple varieties, and they live by selling a lot from very few. That’s the fundamental difference. But there has also been a shift with the Internet. It’s now possible to sell a few of very many varieties—endless options—because the space on the shelf is basically unlimited. That’s the problem: there is only so much space in the display. Only six or ten varieties fit on it at the same time, that’s it. But the online display has unlimited space, which enables us to have dozens of apple varieties in the assortment—to offer and sell hundreds, thousands of other berry and fruit varieties.


Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany

Eckart Brandt: The diversity … Yes, diversity is a great treasure, a wealth we were gifted without making any effort. We should treat it a little less wastefully and pay more attention, so we don’t spoil and ruin it. So it doesn’t run through our fingers and gets lost. We have a genetic pool—a never-ending diversity of tastes, aromas and scents; we also have some totally exotic varieties that taste really unusual. We have an apple variety for every eccentric apple lover. There is a lover even for the most outlandish variety, the one no one can possibly like—even for an apple with a strong, bitter almond aroma, for example. There is a need to taste something different at times, to try something new. We’re always hunting for the exotic and then transport it all around the globe. If we cultivated our own exotics a little better, we could offer so many exciting things from our own countryside. That would be really interesting.


Jimmie Durham’s studio, Berlin, Germany

Jimmie Durham: Capitalism says, “Oh yes, I love these kinds of mangoes from Bangladesh! Let’s sell them all over the world!” … You don’t have to have everything all the time all over the world. Everything could be special instead. So, I don’t want all the world to have our beautiful little sweet persimmons! That doesn’t matter to me! I know them; I remember them! I know them, and I want them to stay special! I don’t want to get them at our local supermarket!


Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), German Federal Research Center for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit Crops, Dresden-Pillnitz, Germany

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Yes, well, the genetic constriction that goes along with the development of new varieties … that does exist. But that is the basic nature of breeding. Breeding means reducing, doesn’t it? By always choosing the biggest and best, I discard all the ones that are small and average. That means I move somewhat to the fringe of diversity, because if I want diversity, I also have to eat the bitter ones and the tart ones, and the very green ones and the hard ones, don’t I? But I don’t want that, of course. In the shop, I want to buy an apple with a certain size, a certain color and taste, and a certain shelf life. Meaning if I breed for these, I will reduce. That’s inevitable.

Antje: But Eckart Brandt showed me his favorite apple, the Finkenwerder Herbstprinz—that’s a big apple that does well in storage, has a good taste and you can use it for many things, but still it has virtually disappeared from the market…

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: … and did he tell you why it disappeared from the market?

Antje: No … ?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Most likely that’s because it had some characteristic that wasn’t useful in commercial fruit farming. We produce about a million tons of apples per year. And we consume around two million tons. You can’t produce that in a meadow orchard. We don’t have enough land for that in Germany. So either we import from countries like New Zealand, China, Italy—then we have to live with the fact that the fruit we import is produced according to their standards. We have little influence over the plant protection products and so on—or we trust our local fruit agriculture. And then we have to create conditions for it to produce the proper quantities. As much as I love meadow orchards and believe that they belong to our countryside (because it’s a tradition, an element that shapes the landscape and has something to do with homeland) we can’t produce with these varieties in commercial fruit farming.[5] That’s why they have gradually disappeared.

We have a lot of wealth. So for us, it’s not about making sure we have apples to sell. It’s more about a desire to have a super high-quality apple that, if possible, costs next to nothing. That’s a challenge for breeding apples, too. In 1920, the point was to provide fruit for the people. We don’t have that any more today. We have enough fruit. We throw away a lot of fruit, even. And that’s where I think we need a change in mindset. But that’s only possible if we’re willing to pay a certain price. A producer for a certain niche has to be certain he will be able to get rid of his stuff, and then he has to get enough money for his goods to make the cultivation profitable. You only get there by raising awareness, and customers’ willingness to say, “Okay, I’ll pay more than ninety-nine cents per kilo; I’ll pay €1.50, €2.00, €2.50, even—but I expect it to be something special, that it represents a diversity.”

Looking at the big organic food shops today, you won’t find diversity. I was recently in Dresden, at the central train station where there is a large organic supermarket. They carry the same varieties as REWE, Aldi and the other conventional chains. These apples are produced differently, okay, but there’s no diversity. No other diversity. If I’m willing to pay more money, I would also expect a different product. But the trend is rather the opposite, meaning organic produce is getting cheaper and cheaper. It’s the same with them as it is with all the other produce. We want mass products, and again that will lead us to produce the same stuff: something where we can produce many tons of high quality fruit with very few genotypes.


Binder International, Smaki Tarczyna apple juice factory, Tarczyn, Poland

Antje: Do you think the apple has become a global product?

Adam Miłoszewski: Yes, definitely. Poland is the world’s second-largest producer of apple juice concentrate, surpassed only by China. It produces between 220,000 and 300,000 tons of apple juice concentrate annually. Apple orchards are expanding every year, giving us access to a growing supply of apples. Growing industrial apples is also more efficient than working with traditional apple varieties—some fifty, seventy, eighty tons of apples per hectare. We’ve observed a certain trend over the past five to seven years, as apple processing companies like ours cooperate with farmers to increase the size of orchards that grow apples exclusively for the needs of our industry. This involves growing new apple varieties that would only be used for processing and not be sold to consumers. Here we have to add an important piece of information: all the apples we process are cheaper than the ones sold in supermarkets. So if they are cheaper and farmers still want to make money, they have to lower the cost of growing. This means that they will use fewer pesticides and less fertilizer, so they can still turn a profit.

Robert Pierściński: The efficiency of existing orchards is increasing as well. In Austria (or other Western European countries) you can harvest about twenty-five tons of apples per hectare. In Poland the figure is currently at 17.5 tons per hectare. Our orchards will soon have a total area of 200,000 hectares. If our efficiency reaches twenty tons per hectare, a figure that still remains lower than in many Western European countries, the predicted total yield in Poland will amount to four million tons of apples. No other European country grows apples on a similar scale. Most of these apples are meant to be sold to consumers. Right now, we need to find ways to utilize the apple surplus we will soon have. Predictions say that half a million tons can be sold on the domestic market; one and a half million tons, maybe up to two million, can be processed, so we are left with one and a half million tons of apples that will need to be exported. If Russia decides to ban the import of Polish apples, what will we do then?


Industrial apple farm, Michrow, Poland

Antje: The apple is a very traditional fruit, both in Poland and in Germany.

Marian Orzeszek: There is one Europe now, and there is not much difference whether it’s Poland or Germany. The production of apples is similar everywhere, but the weather conditions differ. In some regions it’s easier to produce apples because the climate is warmer. In other regions it’s more difficult. One thing is sure: it is very expensive to produce tasty apples suitable for direct consumption; the costs are incompatible with today’s prices.

Aleksandra Jach: Why is this region so important for the production of apples? What is so special about it?

Marian Orzeszek: The Warka and Grójec regions are among the best suited for apple orchard cultivation, with optimal weather conditions. The region is less exposed to frost. The soil is not very compact, not too wet or marshy. There are several factors at play. Still, it is better if the soil is drier, because you can always irrigate the orchard. When the soil is too marshy, you can install a drainage system, but it doesn’t always work.

Aleksandra Jach: So you’re also using an irrigation system?

Marian Orzeszek: Yes, we have installed an irrigation system. Roughly 10–15% of my apple production is used in the processing industry for juice concentrate, and the rest goes to direct consumption and export. I produce 50–60 tons per hectare on average; people say that it is possible to get 80–100 tons per hectare, but that’s just bragging between neighbors. The realistic yield is about 60 tons per hectare.

Aleksandra Jach: How many hectares do you have?

Marian Orzeszek: Less than twenty in total, but not just apple trees. I have also cherry trees, plum trees, pear trees, sour cherry trees; apple trees cover approximately ten hectares, that’s half of my acreage. But most of this land has already been transferred to my son; the rest of what I still have is a tiny piece.

Aleksandra Jach: Your son wants to develop the fruit plantation, doesn’t he?

Marian Orzeszek: Yes. When I transferred the land, I asked him and his wife if they want to work. He said he does and so did his wife, so I said to myself, “Let them work, let them make money.”

Antje: Which variety is this tree, for example?

Marian Orzeszek: That is a very old variety, Lobo, very popular among customers. It’s been popular for almost fifty years. It’s one of the best dessert apples. Not every exporter sells this apple variety, but some do. But it’s one of the most popular dessert apples on the domestic market.

Antje: What other apple varieties do you grow here?

Marian Orzeszek: There are many apple varieties. I’d say we produce far too many varieties in Poland, because the consumer doesn’t know which variety to choose. Really, production would be easier if we were to cultivate fewer varieties, and today it’s not clear which variety to plant. What will be the new trend for apple cultivation? That’s the question. Lobo and Cortland have been popular with Polish customers for years, but Idared wasn’t. It’s an apple variety that we mostly produce for export and mainly to the East, to Russia. The traditional varieties for export were: Champion, Gloster, and Idared, Lobo, Cortland, Gloster, Decosta, Ligol, Paula Red—a lot of varieties, as I said. Too many! There is also Reinette Simirenko, one of the newest varieties, which isn’t that popular with customers. No one knows whether the market will accept it. In most cases, apple farmers plant a specific variety that hasn’t been tested yet, and they don’t know how the market will react to it. Sometimes we have to cut down three- or four-year-old apple trees because the variety wasn’t accepted on the market and needs to be replaced.

Antje: What apple variety is that? Is it all grafted on M9 rootstock?[6]

Marian Orzeszek: This is the Ligol variety grafted on the M9 rootstock. The trees grafted on the M106[7] rootstock are thirty-seven years old and should be cleared. We already removed a lot of trees. There is one old Cortland tree left that produces beautiful fruit, and that is why we don’t cut it down.


Warsaw University of Life Sciences SGGW, Department of Pomology

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: In the past they used seedlings as rootstocks—seedlings from the Antonówka, for example—and these trees were very big. We don’t use seedlings as a rootstock anymore. By choosing the rootstock, we know that this tree will become a dwarf, this one will be a little stronger. It means we can influence the size of the tree.

Kamil Jeziorak: Yes, because Antonówka can be a rootstock, but it’s a very big tree. We can see old trees that are thirty, fourty, fifty years old. But M9 trees have a short life. These M9 trees can be up to fifteen, twenty years old, I think. That’s all.

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: Using M9, we have to support all the trees because they break otherwise. And they need water and very fertile soil.

Kamil Jeziorak: Yes, they have very weak root system.

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: But we have to remember that on all the rootstocks we cultivate from seedlings, the fruit will never be as good as it is on rootstocks propagated vegetatively. Because with M9, for instance, the fruit is redder, the apples are bigger, and the ripening time is different as well.

Kamil Jeziorak: Of course we also have some rootstocks like M26.[8] M26 is between M9 and Antonówka; it has 50% of the growth vigor. Maybe M26 isn’t that bad. It’s a small tree.


  1. How are apples grown, traded and processed?

Apple plantation, Ourika Valley, Morocco

Farmer (shows brown leaf): That’s caused by the insects. On this leaf, you don’t see them.

Antje: So you have to use insecticides? Chemicals?

Farmer: Yes, exactly. The insects are the reason I use them. But here we don’t use very many insecticides. Only a little.

Antje: Okay.


Allotment Association Rehberge, Berlin, Germany

Sotirios Arvanitis: The apples have three or four diseases. One is mildew and downy mildew. It’s a fungus on the leaves, especially when it’s rainy and warm. You can stop this disease, to some degree, with spraying. It’s never good, though. I have this problem with my apple trees, but I don’t spray. No matter how many apples it has, whether it’s twenty, thirty, or fifty apples—no matter how few are left: food without chemicals.

There is another disease, a real adversary. It’s like a little butterfly, called the codling moth. This moth lays eggs everywhere. Especially right now, in May. I can show it to you in the tree. These eggs turn into little caterpillars. They have such an appetite! They eat all the leaves. They’ve already started here in my tree.

There is also the apple wasp. It also lays a lot of eggs. For every one of these eggs it lays in June, it goes in there when the apples are small and green and makes a big hole inside. The third is a beetle. It comes every second or third year. When it comes it eats everything. They don’t leave a single apple! All the apples fall off. Of course you need to fight it. You can also spray that. It kills those things. But something of those chemicals is left on the apple. Of course when you get it from companies like Tefalor, or others, from Compo and so on … they say it isn’t dangerous. But all of it is dangerous. Instead, you might go with nature. Boiled stinging nettles, you can spray with that. It doesn’t leave a chemical residue.


Apfelgalerie, shop for apple varieties in Berlin, Germany

Caty Schernus: I think that you find a more practical interest in the countryside. People know what it means to have, and to care for an apple tree, or to plant it. In the city, people often have a romantic idea of the apple tree and how everything grows. What they don’t know is that there are a lot of pests, that it’s actually not that easy to harvest something from your own tree. They want the apple to be perfect, and preferably not sprayed. In reality, that simply doesn’t work. Rural people can relate better to that. They know what apples look like when you don’t do anything all year. How long they keep. How crunchy they really are after two months or so.


Allotment Association Rehberge, Berlin, Germany

Sotirios Arvanitis: You have to reduce an apple tree. I’ve already cut off about 40%. The sun has to reach it from all sides. If it does, then there are fewer diseases, fewer parasites. The sun plays a very important role. If the tree just grows and grows, and the apples hang underneath—they have no flavor. They didn’t get any sunlight! They don’t ripen!


Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany

Antje: What is most important thing to keep in mind when trimming the tree?

Eckart Brandt: The tree should grow a proper crown. It’s not important that it bears fruit very soon, but rather that it builds up a stable tree top structure, which you have to create by cutting it several times—there are different theories about that. That the tree develops a supporting framework of leading branches which can later bear heavy weight, so that the branches don’t simply snap as soon as a few fruit appear. You have to ensure that the leading branches spread evenly around the tree, so that light and air can flow freely everywhere. If you just let it to grow at random, it will always grow way too much bark. And four or five years on, it becomes so bushy that the branches get into each other’s way. Then nothing can grow anymore, and there’s the tendency that a ten-year-old tree will more or less stop growing. It ages prematurely. They’re just culture crops. You can’t just let them grow the way you would a birch or an alder. Those trees know how to do it on their own. But somehow an apple tree doesn’t.


Warsaw University of Life Sciences SGGW, Department of Pomology, Warsaw, Poland

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: Every variety needs to be managed differently. A lot of farmers that produce Ligol, for instance, don’t actually know what they need to do. Because of this there is the opinion, even at the Research Institute of Horticulture in Skierniewice, that these trees only start to produce fruit every other year after several years. But that’s not true! Because I know from a farmer that it is possible to have a very high yield every year. It depends on how you cut the branches. We ought to cut off all the shoots that are older than three years. We leave about 5-7 cm of the old branch, and new shoots start to grow out of it. From these new shoots, we get the next flowers, fruits, etc. And that way, we get a good yield every year, up to eighty tons per hectare. And the quality is also very good, because there is a lot of light all the time and the fruit grows red. If we leave the tree without care, the fruit can be green.


Industrial apple farm, Michrow, Poland

Marian Orzeszek: As we can see here, the tree has been pruned. I don’t know if it needs further pruning, but probably not, as we can already see buds here. Here ATS[9] was used and I don’t think it needs further pruning—this is the royal bud. These other buds over here will drop and not begin growing any fruit. Only one fruit will be left.

Aleksandra Jach: What is ATS?

Marian Orzeszek: ATS is a thinning agent. It is sprayed when the first petals start to fall. If we choose the right weather, it is an effective agent. The royal bud stays behind and yields the most beautiful fruit, while the other buds will dry and fall. Since a plant cannot bring all buds to maturity, it tries to defend itself by abscission; even though there will be the June fruit drop later on. If a plant has too many buds, it will abscise immature fruit, or produce large amounts of small fruit, not suitable for selling … We also apply Regalis[10] to stop the growth, because a tree that grows too much yields weak fruit. Regalis is mostly used twice a year. Although it is a very expensive agent, it is beneficial. It balances shoot growth and stops trees from growing too tall. The shoots don’t grow as quickly as they would with the use of fertilizers. If you use Regalis, a tree can be 50% and sometimes even 75% smaller than it would be if you had not used it.

Aleksandra Jach: How many times per year do you have to spray the trees overall?

Marian Orzeszek: It is impossible to calculate, as it depends on the weather conditions. If rain sets in and washes off the agent, then we have to reapply; this can be as often as three to four times a week. This year, we have already sprayed eighteen times. What date is it today? The 14th of May? We’ve already carried out eighteen treatments; my son checked it yesterday. Those are extremely high costs. And one agent is usually not enough; you have to combine it with a tree-strengthening agent applied by foliar feeding.[11]

Antje: Do you also spray the surrounding area?

Marian Orzeszek: We were planning to use herbicides today, but the wind was too strong before lunch, so we didn’t. If we have time, we’ll do it in the evening. Herbicides are also sprayed on the ground around the trees; we only leave a green belt in the middle.

Antje: These sprays and various plant protection agents that you buy … are these Polish products?

Marian Orzeszek: Mainly from Germany, Sweden, and Austria. There aren’t many Polish agents. We mostly use Bayer chemicals.

Aleksandra Jach: You inherited the farm from your father, didn’t you?

Marian Orzeszek: Yes, I inherited the farm from my father.

Aleksandra Jach: When you look at these long-lasting traditions over generations, thinking back to how you watched your parents work—where is the difference?

Marian Orzeszek: There’s a remarkable difference. Back then, spraying happened when apple trees blossom as pink buds—that would be enough to kill practically all hibernating eggs. And the final spraying would be around the time of the June fruit drop; that was enough. And today, we spray virtually every week until apple picking time, at least once a week, even when the weather conditions are bad. And in the past, it was not even 25% of what we use today. Who had ever heard of pear sucker,[12] for example, and today those insects infest orchards so much that farmers can’t cope with it. I don’t know if insecticides are worse, but no one manages to get rid of those insects. There is so much spraying that there shouldn’t be a problem.

Aleksandra Jach: We wanted to find out more about bees …

Marian Orzeszek: Bees play a very important role. I once kept bees, but it’s an extremely time-consuming and laborious task; I had no time for bees. But we brought a wild bee, Anthophora parietina, that does not sting and works twice as much as a honey bee. They just breed in the wild, and they do everything. We only have to protect them in the winter. They are very good for plant pollination. They don’t produce honey; they just lay eggs and the young bees hatch in the spring. Not all, but most apple farmers have this wild bee. Bees are very important in fruit production. Some farmers plant different varieties in rows, so that one variety pollinates another. You can cross-pollinate with different varieties of cherry or apple trees, but bees are the most reliant.

Aleksandra Jach: Are the bees affected by spraying?

Marian Orzeszek: Yes, you shouldn’t spray any chemicals on bees. Usually you have to spray after sunset, when they aren’t flying around or sitting on trees in clusters—then it’s safe. Today’s insecticides and herbicides are less toxic than the previous ones, because they are more selective. They do not accumulate in the fruit, but you have to use them as recommended. If it says that spraying should be carried out two weeks before apple picking, you should respect the two-week waiting period.

Aleksandra Jach: Is it true that some people spray later so that it’s more efficient?

Marian Orzeszek: It’s rather rare, but I don’t know. We don’t do that. We always respect the waiting period: if it says 21 days, we respect this three-week waiting period, and we don’t start picking apples before the end of this three-week waiting period. Every spraying is recorded with additional information.


Department of Gene Resources and Nurseries, Research Institute of Pomology and Floriculture, Skierniewice, Poland

Grzegorz Hodun: The most common problem lately is fire blight, which is spreading due to the warming climate. If the winters are not cold enough, the diseases survive the winter unscathed. Once a plant gets infected, it very quickly develops a black discoloration and its young shoots start drooping down in a shape that resembles a lyre or a walking stick. Those are the main symptoms. Apart from that, a slight discharge of fluid usually occurs at the point where infected and healthy tissues meet.

The disease was practically unknown in Poland twenty or thirty years ago, but it’s becoming more common now in orchards and it kills the trees completely. There are a few varieties that are less susceptible, but as far as I know, no variety is completely resistant.

The Czech Topaz variety, for example, can be grown successfully without using scab-protection agents. Of course, some protective measures can be used. Copper sulphate,[13] for instance, is allowed and widely used. Use of the Bordeaux mixture[14] is prohibited in Poland, but not in Western Europe, so organic farms use it very effectively to limit the severity of scab infections.


Bio-Hof Bölingen organic farm, Graftschaft, Germany

Bert Krämer: With the apple we normally differentiate the variety, and then there are various types. The types have a slightly different color. This one, for example, has red stripes. With the Fuji in particular, we have a rather large difference in types. The Fuji we grew is a particularly susceptible variety. This means that, especially in organic farming, we have to take special care to apply our harmless biological plant protection agents at the right time. We often have no more than four to six or seven hours to act against a specific fungus or parasite. So Fuji is a variety that the customers like a lot, but we’d rather get it out of our organic farming. There’s just nothing resistant in sight that comes close to it in terms of taste and shelf life. We like to work with resilient varieties, like Elise or Pinova, for example. We work with plant protection that you can ultimately find in nature as well. We don’t use any artificial-synthetic agents.

Antje: Can you name some examples?

Bert Krämer: It could be a bark extract like NeemAzal,[15] for example, which we use against lice; we use sulphur, a basic element in the earth, against fungal diseases; we work with algae and so on. Rock flour is used to slightly injure the skin so the apple will build its own … not resistance, but resilience. As a result, the skin is often a little thicker in organic farming, but less attractive for a louse or other insects. It’s the same for fungi on leaves; we make the cellular structure a little firmer by using rock flour, so it’s less interesting for fungi to penetrate. At the same time, we’re working with agents that have differing pH-levels, which just creates an environment that fungi like less for settling down.


Department of Gene Resources and Nurseries, Research Institute of Pomology and Floriculture, Skierniewice, Poland

Grzegorz Hodun: Well, when it comes to fruit farming, the use of chemicals is currently being reduced throughout the world. So there is a need to use other methods that will allow farmers to grow high-quality fruit. We use different approaches here, mainly agro-technical ones, but also variety selection, because it is important to grow only those varieties that are very resistant to disease. Old varieties are very important in this respect, as many of the ones amateurs grow in private orchards are free of apple scab.[16] This is a result of the growing methods, because if we look at trees in commercial orchards, they usually contain only one variety in very large numbers, and this leads to the spread of pests and diseases. But if you look at traditional orchards, they often consist of numerous varieties and species, so diseases have more difficulty spreading. Furthermore, commercial orchards use short trees which makes them more susceptible to scab infection, because pests have better access to the leaves than they do with taller trees, where the lowest branches start growing at about 2 m stem height or even higher.


Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), German Federal Research Center for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit Crops, Dresden-Pillnitz, Germany

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Fruit farming as such is managed very well. They know that you don’t grow a resistant variety without spraying. Instead, you protect the resistance by preventing new races from spreading. Nothing is more damaging than someone growing a meadow orchard with many susceptible varieties that have various single-resistances, and even worse, grows them in a mix. Then you’ll have this case: You have one variety with a gene for resistance, and another variety with a different one. The races of apple scab can’t develop on either one. But on the one, the races that can grow are the ones that have essentially broken the resistance. On the other one, you get those that have broken the other gene for resistance. And both can meet on the susceptible apple variety where a sexual exchange happens and creates new races that can infect both! A meadow orchard that contains a mix of varieties like this and isn’t treated is a horror scenario for the development of new races. We’re creating our own problems with these fruit collections that are not properly maintained. That’s the way it is.


Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany

Eckart Brandt: Of course, this is a great apple! You just saw the other one, all infected with scab. This one hasn’t got a trace. It had exactly the same conditions. Some can do that and others can’t. It’s in the genes whether an apple is susceptible or not. This Prince Albrecht of Prussia, or Albrecht’s apple as it was known in East Germany, obviously has a good defense system. Even in a year when fungal diseases were widespread and made life hard even for industrial fruit farmers, it’s not affected at all. The scab spores can be everywhere, and the canker germs and so on, but this one isn’t even challenged. In dealing with apple varieties, you have to start with a range that is vital and robust. Look at all the modern varieties that are common in commercial fruit farming. The poor buyers are not told that they have to buy the chemical package as well. Otherwise it won’t work. The varieties originate from extremely susceptible mother varieties like the Golden Delicious, for example.

Antje: Can you name some varieties that stem from the Golden Delicious?

Eckart Brandt: Well, almost everything stems from the Golden Delicious. A colleague of mine has mapped the pedigree of modern apple varieties all the way to the great grandparents. In some modern varieties, the Golden Delicious was crossbred three, four times. Again and again in each generation. Sometimes you still hear it in the name. Jonagold is Jonathan plus Golden Delicious of course. In the Elstar you don’t see it; it’s Golden Delicious plus Ingrid Mary. It’s everywhere, in all the modern varieties like Rubinetta, Royal Gala …

Antje: Where does the Golden Delicious actually come from?

Eckart Brandt: It’s an old variety as well.[17] Not all of them were great and resistant. Originally, it comes from the US. Of course it wasn’t turned into one of the pillars of modern fruit farming just to annoy fruit lovers, but because it was so endlessly reproductive. If you look at old regional varieties like the Seestermüher Lemon Apple,[18] it can easily compete in terms of reproductibility. And it has no problems. Why weren’t varieties like that taken for further breeding? Well, I think there was an interest of particular sides. When you take material like that, you can make a lot of money with it. You can sell tons of pesticides to the fruit farmers for decades. That was a really interesting market. It’s so obvious, and we’re still doing it. We also tell people in the Third World to do away with their old, robust varieties. We have much more productive varieties that you can market much better. Of course you have to fertilize and spray them a little more … Why should it have been any different here? I can well imagine that. They probably practiced here before conquering the rest of the world.


Nursery and test orchard at Lubera, Bad Zwischenahn, Germany

Antje: Do you have an explanation as to why the Golden Delicious became so dominant?

Markus Kobelt: It’s a good apple. When you breed you notice that, independent of the quality of the apple, of the parents’ variety itself, there are apples that pass on good characteristics. There are also those that don’t pass on good characteristics well, even though they’re good themselves. It’s not that different with humans. The Golden Delicious has many good characteristics: its shelf life, the texture, also the aromatic substances. It passes those on very well and so it’s part of many varieties. This is not such a bad thing, essentially. Nothing against that. It only becomes a problem when it becomes too one-sided. The case with the Golden Delicious is simply that it was planted too much during the 1970s and 80s. It was no accident that they called it “Green Horrible” in the former East Germany, because it doesn’t taste good from that region. But if you eat a Golden Delicious from the mountain slopes of South Tyrol, it’s still one of the three or four of the best apples you can possibly get.

Antje: But it’s very susceptible to disease, so it needs a lot of chemicals.

Markus Kobelt: Yes, of course. Yes, on the one hand that’s innate, but there’s also the effect of the monoculture. If you have a variety that is planted a lot, pathogens can specialize in it. It’s incredible the effect that this has. And that makes it very susceptible. Gala is as well, by the way. But let me tell you: when I started in fruit farming twenty or thirty years ago, the Gala wasn’t so crazy susceptible at all.


Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany

Antje: You don’t use any plant protecting agents, do you?

Eckart Brandt: No, I don’t intend to ever start that again. That’s my type of stamina test. What do they do without drugs? Will they survive it?

(He holds up a magnificent apple.)

An apple “shouldn’t” look like this in a scab year, without any plant protection agents applied. But that’s what it looks like. It angers me when people begin to spread untruths. When interest-driven commercial fruit farmers are quick to say, “You can’t produce dessert apples without plant protecting agents.” It’s a lie! It’s an affront. They are what they are. They don’t need it.


Industrial apple farm, Michrow, Poland

Antje: What are your main problems in growing apples?

Marian Orzeszek: There’s a lot of work: soil fertilization, foliar feeding, thinning the canopy—even though Regalis has been used, thinning has to be repeated in the summer season. Sometimes, if it doesn’t work, we have to do pruning and trimming manually. And then spray against diseases. It results in extremely high costs for producing one kilogram of apples. I didn’t calculate it, but someone else did and apparently the cost of all activities related to apple production comes out to approximately PLN 1.16. The price of one kilogram of apples for export is PLN 1.00 to PLN 1.10. After three to four years with prices like that, we’re out of business. Well, the last years were quite okay; we could invest money in the farm, but this year is very bad. It’s because of bad exports. We don’t know how it’s going to end. Russia is threatening to impose an embargo on Polish fruit and vegetables, and if they do, we will go down. We still have many products stored here in Poland. Angela Merkel is more cunning than our prime minister. Merkel is egging on this pipsqueak Donald Tusk, and while she’s doing her job, he’s rattling his sabre. What is this sabre rattling for? That’s the truth. Angela Merkel—who’s afraid of her? Nobody is afraid of her; it’s just that there are bigger powers than Poland, also larger economies, and today the only thing that counts is economy. Nobody in Western Europe cares about the Ukrainians. But everyone cares about trading. I think that economic relations and trade should prevail over anger and resentment. And what we have instead are reciprocal insults, offending and taking offence; turning off the gas taps, banning export …

Aleksandra Jach: If you can’t sell your fruit, what do you want to do with them?

Marian Orzeszek: I don’t know. So far there hasn’t been a year in which I couldn’t sell. But this year, I don’t know what will happen. We might be forced to store apples until next year.

Antje: How do you store your apples? Do you use this reduced oxygen method?

Marian Orzeszek: Yes, I keep them in a cold store under a controlled atmosphere, so I can easily keep them as long as I want. Just keep in mind that this means extra electricity costs. Fresh fruit can be kept for as long as seven to eight months, but it’s an additional expense. You need to develop an anaerobic atmosphere with low oxygen levels—from 1% to 1.5%. In conditions like this, carbon dioxide can be very dangerous to apples and cause damage. There are several methods for removing carbon dioxide from the cold store. The most basic and commonly used method is to place lime hydrate (Ca(OH)2) into the storage room. The lime then turns into chalk according to the principles of carbon dioxide absorption. A chemical reaction takes place and it turns into chalk.


Bio-Hof Bölingen organic farm, Graftschaft, Germany

Bert Krämer: The normal way to preserve an apple works mainly through temperature and humidity. An apple keeps best at about 1.5 or 2 degrees with very high humidity. That way, you can easily keep most varieties fresh for months. For some decades now, it has also been possible to reduce the oxygen level to 2%, which puts the apple into a deep sleep, and once it comes out of the cold store it’s fresh for the first weeks—like fresh from the tree. Another agent has also been allowed in conventional farming for a number of years; it’s an ethylene product[19] blown into the cold stores that keeps the apple crunchy but it eventually also accumulates a little in the apple. That’s definitely off limits in organic farming. We chose the Fuji because it can be stored for a long time, even under these simple conditions, with very little oxygen and the right temperature, and stays fresh and crunchy right into April. It’s more about varieties that are popular in Germany, like Elstar, which become critical as early as January. They are often fumigated when they come out of normal storage, or that CA-storage.


Industrial apple farm, Michrow, Poland

Antje: Couldn’t you sell your apples for juice, for concentrate? If you sell the apples for juice concentrate, you can deliver them to the collecting stations all year long, can’t you?

Marian Orzeszek: Yes, you’re right, all year long. The only problem is the price: PLN 0.20 per kilogram. That’s PLN 200.00 per ton. You can also put it that way: the price of industrial apple is now PLN 0.20 per kilogram. Twenty groszy per kilogram—that’s the cost of picking apples, not to mention other costs. Even those scab-resistant orchards that produce industrial apples need protection; nothing would grow there otherwise. The trees will be infested by either apple scab or apple blossom weevil. If you want to grow something, you have to use fertilizers. And all these costs add up to approximately PLN 1.16 … If I were employed, I’d earn a certain amount of money. Nobody takes into account that I would have earned real money, working from 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. Here we work ‘round the clock, from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. I haven’t slept a bit since yesterday, because I spent all night in Bronisze. Without any sleep…

Aleksandra Jach: What were you doing there?

Marian Orzeszek: I was trying to sell apples, without any success. You could go there. It’s the largest wholesale market in Poland.

Aleksandra Jach: Who is buying in Bronisze? Are these market traders?

Marian Orzeszek: They are people selling in shops, on markets and market squares. There are Lithuanians, Latvians, Belarusians, Ukrainians … Russians come too. I haven’t seen Russians for some time, but Russians were coming with trucks and bought different products.

An old farm laborer brings some apples for us.

Marian Orzeszek: These ones over there are industrial apples. Export rejects. This apple doesn’t have the appropriate size and color, so it will be sold at collecting stations, to be used for juice concentrate.

Aleksandra Jach: Are these apples from the last season?

Marian Orzeszek: Yes, from last year. Here you see a Cortland apple. Last year it was hailing heavily, and here we have the hail-damaged apples. They aren’t suitable for the Polish market, either. Even though it’s not poisonous, Polish customers don’t want to buy ugly apples.

Antje: And which apple variety is this?

Marian Orzeszek: This one is Lobo. These are the smallest apples. The apples sized 7 and 7.5 cm have either been sold on the domestic market or exported. The rest goes into cool storage. Nowadays, everyone buys with their eyes. Fruit has to be beautiful and well-formed.

Antje: Can I have one, please?

Marian Orzeszek: Please take a dessert one. Bogdan! Bogdan! Have you got any dessert apples? Fetch some nice, firm and crunchy Champion apples and some nice Lobo ones and bring them to our guests.

He gives us whole crates of apples as a present.

Aleksandra Jach: Please, gentlemen, this is far too much for us.

Marian Orzeszek: You’ll share it amongst yourselves.


Bio-Hof Bölingen organic farm, Graftschaft, Germany

Bert Krämer: There are these commercial classes, or “grades,” some of which have already been scrapped. Anyway, grades are an institution that only traders want. In Italy and France, they don’t sell according to grades usually, because the consumer is happy to have a smaller one or a larger one sometimes. Grades exist mainly to make everything look uniform, and allow traders to know exactly what they are buying. In the end, it’s the consumer who sees the product and wants to buy it. There are these oversizes: 80 +, 8 cm in diameter, that apple is really a chore to eat.,. The 65s to 75s are the most popular apple sizes in Germany, maybe a little smaller for children. But the larger an apple is, the softer it may be in its cellular structure because the individual cell is just a little bigger, and that’s not what people in Germany want. So oversizes are very undesired.

Basically you will find that requirements for apples vary considerably throughout the world. In Russia it has to be a big, red, shiny apple. In Asia, it should be oversized, and they often the apples put in bags while still on the tree to ensure they aren’t attacked by fungi and parasites, and in doing so only keep a few, very large apples on the tree. The sweet-tart apple taste is only really popular in Central Europe and Scandinavia. All other regions prefer their apples sweet. And for the apple to grow, you always need a winter. That means wherever there is no winter, you will only find one or two varieties, mostly one polished red apple that is very bright and a green one, just so you can make out a difference in color.


Apfelgalerie, Berlin, Germany

Caty Schernus: This is the Glockenapfel or “bell apple”—with a bell shape, that’s where the name comes from. It’s very good for cooking and baking, or for people who like a really tart apple. A lot of people complain that there are basically no tart apples left besides the Russet. That’s why the bell apple is very popular, but as you can see, it gets very big. This can make customers skeptical, and they ask, “Why is it that big? Has it been fertilized that much?” But you simply get varieties that stay very small and others that grow very large. They’re not all average like the goods in the supermarket.


Binder International, Binder International, Smaki Tarczyna apple juice factory, Tarczyn, Poland

Robert Pierściński: The processing industry uses only about 20-30% of the apples grown in Poland. Farmers want to sell their crops directly to the consumers, so they are constantly trying to improve and develop new apple varieties that would better suit consumer tastes, but are also more efficient to grow and have a more a consistent level of quality. We, as fruit concentrate producers, use apples that were grown to be sold directly to consumers but fail to meet the quality standards that go along with that. Some 99% of today’s apple concentrate production—which amounts to 100,000 tons—comes from apples grown for direct consumption. We get the leftovers that supermarkets and other stores don’t want.

Robert Pierściński: The apples we use are less good than the others, but it doesn’t mean they are lower quality. It is obvious that apples sold in supermarkets have to look nice. They should be round, not be discolored, etc. Our apples are perfectly okay; they contain no hazardous substances, toxins or whatever. It’s just that their shape is not suited to the consumer’s tastes.

Adam Miłoszewski: Our facility gets its apples from orchards located in three or four communities nearby. When there is a shortage of apples in the region—because of frost damage, for example—we are sometimes forced to have apples delivered from other regions of the country or even import them from other countries.

Most juice factories in Poland are foreign-owned, mostly by Western European companies, and most of their products are sold on Western European markets. This company is owned by Markus Binder. It’s a German company. We are a part of the Binder International Warszawa group, a subsidiary of Binder International. All of the company’s manufacturing plants are located in Poland.

Robert Pierściński: Our facility here in Tarczyn produces only fruit juice concentrates. Our sales model is built around a business-to-business (B2B) cooperation. A tanker comes to our facility to be filled with concentrate, and then it goes to a factory where the concentrate is used to make fruit juice. The sort of fruit juice that is available at your local grocery store.

Antje: How much apple juice do you produce here?

Robert Pierściński: The amount of concentrate produced in our facility depends on the conditions during the growing season, with an annual average of processed fruit ranging from 65,000 to 75,000 tons. We are able to produce up to 10,000 tons of apple juice concentrate annually. The technology at our disposal allows us to produce a kilogram of concentrate using 7 kg of apples. But if we want to use the concentrate to produce fruit juice, about 1.1 kg of fruit is enough to make a kilogram, or a liter, of juice.

We cooperate both with orchard owners and collecting stations. Collecting stations purchase produce from the farmers and handle distribution. About 50% of our apples are sourced from these kinds of stations.

Adam Miłoszewski: For logistical reasons, we’re practically forced to deal with collecting stations. If we wanted to buy directly from the farmers, we would have to receive all of their deliveries here. That would make all the procedures take longer because they would deliver batches of about two to five tons of apples, whereas trucks that deliver from the collecting stations carry up to twenty-five to twenty-eight tons. Our facility can receive deliveries of about 1,000 tons of apples daily. If each farmer were to deliver two to five tons of apples, I would have to deal with two hundred farmers every day. Supermarkets cooperate directly with farmers’ associations, many of which have been founded since Poland’s accession to the European Union. They consist of well-organized companies that have used EU funds to build innovative warehouses. They have installed the world’s most modern fruit sorting lines.

Robert Pierściński: With apple juice concentrate, we can see a certain trend for the past several years—the price does not depend on the harvest in a given year, but is set by the buyers who are, for the most part, supermarkets. This year’s harvest was 20–30% lower than last year’s, but the price of juice concentrate is lower now than it was back then, despite that year’s record-high harvests. This might be influenced by the ongoing financial crisis. Supermarkets want to drive prices lower to increase sales, and this forces us to follow suit. Hence, fruit concentrate prices are lower than we could have expected. Fruit juice producers can change their recipes rather quickly, but Polish apples are hard to substitute with, for instance, Chinese apples. Polish apples have an average acidity of 3%, whereas Chinese apples only have 2%, which changes the characteristics of the concentrate, but fruit juice producers are nevertheless able to alter their recipes. They can substitute a Polish concentrate with a foreign-made one. All in all, European juice producers have access to two sources of apple juice concentrate: Poland and China.

Adam Miłoszewski: Another issue we should mention are the decreasing sales of pure fruit juices, accompanied by the growing market share of fruit drinks and mineral water. Flavored mineral water is also available, and apple-flavored water probably eats up sales for pure apple fruit juice, as it has a similar taste.

Robert Pierściński: Yet we’ve also observed in increase in sales for NFC juices. They are cloudy, not as processed as other fruit drinks. They have more nutritional value, taste better, and contain more fibers as well as vitamins and trace elements. We should distinguish between the two kinds of juice that are available in the market: concentrate-based juices and NFC juices—the acronym stands for Not From Concentrate. The juice is pressed and packaged without much processing in between, often making the juice cloudy.

Antje: I was just thinking that in Poland, you have to pay the workers more nowadays because Poland in general is much better off now than it was some years ago; and if you have to compete with China where they still have very cheap labor, you probably have to find new ways of making money—so maybe the direct juice could reach new consumers here. I don’t know if I’m right …

Robert Pierściński: First of all, we have to clarify that Chinese-made fruit concentrate has not been cheaper than our domestic product for the past two years. In fact, the opposite is true: it’s the Chinese concentrate that is more expensive. Chinese producers have found it hard to sell their concentrate to European buyers over the last two years. The quantity of apples for concentrate production has dropped, so the price of apples in the Chinese market went up because the Chinese are eating more fresh fruit. So the price of Chinese-made apple juice concentrate also rose due to a shortage in local apple supply.

Antje: That makes sense, because I was just in China and I saw new fruit shops everywhere—fruit with very pleasant-looking plastic packaging, quite expensive actually. It is the new fashion to buy fruit. When you visit people, you bring them fruit now, and that didn’t exist three years ago. And I asked my friends, “Since when do they have these fruit shops?” and they said, “It started two years ago.”

Robert Pierściński: That is why their concentrate is more expensive: because of costs for the raw material. Even if the difference in price is not that big, you have to multiply it by a factor of seven. That’s when the difference becomes significant, even if all other manufacturing costs remain the same.

We belong to the Polish Association of Juice Producers (KUPS) whose members represent both the largest apple juice concentrate producers and representatives from other major fruit juice manufacturers. The Association coordinates our efforts in standardizing the relations between suppliers and buyers, as well as conducting informational campaigns aimed at consumers. There is also the Fruit Union, which groups Poland’s best fruit growers, the avant-garde of fruit farmers. It unites various farmers’ associations that specialize in exporting their apples to Eastern European markets, including countries such as Russia and Kazakhstan, but increasingly North African and Chinese markets as well, since China is perceived as a huge opportunity for Polish apple farmers. The Fruit Union includes representatives of the most modern fruit processing plants and orchards who handle about 70% of Polish apple exports. They cooperate with the Polish Society for Horticultural Science to find new markets. This is a new trend that aims to make Poland independent from the Russian market, which up to now has received 90% of Polish apple exports. The figure has dropped to 70% in recent years, but this is still too much.


Industrial apple farm, Michrow, Poland

Antje: There is a sign on one of the buildings, saying that it was co-financed by the European Union …

Marian Orzeszek: Yes, it was my son’s decision. I myself never benefited from any EU funds. Maybe it’s a mistake, but I never made use of them. Everything has been transferred to my son already, and he applied for EU funding. My son wants to farm, so I transferred the land to him. He has a Master’s degree, so he’s probably wiser than his father. I just didn’t believe that the European Union gives anything away for free because in the end, you will have to pay it back; my son convinced me that we all pay back—whether you received EU funding or not.

Aleksandra Jach: Did you use the funding for infrastructure or for buildings?

Marian Orzeszek: For equipment. He bought a tractor and a spraying machine.

Antje: Coming here, we saw some plantations that looked all wild and abandoned. Do you know some farmers who gave up?

Marian Orzeszek: Take for example the plantation over there – the man recently died, and now my son goes over to prune his trees; his family lives in Warsaw. Two of their boys have drug and alcohol problems, and you can see what it all looks like. That is precisely what happens when there are no workers. Just a couple of years ago, the soil was fertile and the orchards grew apples, but now it’s neglected and derelict; the untended trees are growing wild. They don’t care, don’t work, and that’s how it is. Some of the owners also live elsewhere, in the cities of Grójec and Tarczyn. This is also unfair about this European Union, that you get subsidies per hectare whether you work a field or not. It would be worth spreading this around. Subsidies should be based on production, and not on land. If you produce, you take subsidies—if you don’t produce anything, you don’t get them. It would be fair that way. That plantation over there is also untended. The owner died, leaving behind a widow with a disabled child.

Antje: How many people are working in the orchard here? Are they all Polish?

Marian Orzeszek: They’re mostly Polish. My son helps me, along with my daughter-in-law and my wife; we also hire people if we can’t manage by ourselves. We need a lot of people for apple picking. Usually we hire three people, and if the export is running well, it can be up to six people. If you work every day, the amount of work diminishes. But we all have to work hard.

Antje: Do you pick apples manually or using a machine?

Marian Orzeszek: Manually. We pick them all by hand. It depends on the weather conditions, sometimes there are a lot of people and there’s no work. And sometimes people are well coordinated and work is done quickly. It takes about two months, sometimes longer.

Antje: And can you ever go on holiday?

Marian Orzeszek: No, that is impossible. My son sometimes goes on holiday. I’ve been to several countries, but leaving the farm for longer is absolutely impossible. My son goes for a week, ten days, and then I stand in for him and do the spraying or anything that’s necessary. But all in all, there’s hardly ever time for holiday, because there is always some work to be done. And if you skip even one spraying—if you don’t make sure you’ve gotten rid of the fungus and it appears—then the entire season could be ruined.

Antje: If you were to imagine an ideal situation for farmers, what would it be like?

Marian Orzeszek: Well, there is no ideal situation, because you have to work anyway. I’m not asking for any undue respect. I just want to be respected like any other citizen. When I’m going to an office or a public institution, people look at me as if I were disturbing them: “Why did you come here? You’d better go home and stop bothering us.” This is the most common thing. In general, all the farmers or producers of apples, livestock, or grains are simply disregarded by city-dwellers.

Antje: This is not just a matter of economy.

Marian: This is not just about the economy, and it is not just in Poland. I suspect that it’s all over the world. Farmers are generally disregarded; there is no respect for them.

Antje: Even though the city gets all its food from the farmers …

Aleksandra Jach: You can’t count on anyone, can you?

Marian: No. I have to count on myself. A farmer should not expect any help from the state, from the government or other institutions. You have to manage on your own. The only thing that counts is that you produce cheap food and that’s it. The most difficult part is the selling; producing is not that difficult. It is expensive, but one can always produce big amounts. But finding the market for our products, that’s a different story. The farmer can’t sell anything himself, and as far as the government goes—well, you never know if they will help or not.

Marian’s son: An outlet for our production is the most important thing.

Marian: Production is, as they say, a piece of cake, but finding an outlet to sell produce at a reasonable price that will ensure a decent living—that is the most important goal. We all know we should do what we really love in life, but it’s good if what you love allows you to have a decent life. I think that anyone who produces something, be it a shoemaker or a tailor, starts from the assumption that you can demand fair payment if you produce high-quality goods. But you can also grow high-quality products and suffer a loss, because you are unable to recoup the capital you invested.

Aleksandra Jach: Today we went to the Warsaw University of Life Sciences and talked about varieties they are working on that need fewer chemicals. For you as an apple farmer, would these kinds of varieties be better, cheaper?

Marian Orzeszek: Yes. There are scab-resistant apple trees, and even though they also require some chemicals, they need 75% less than ordinary varieties like Lobo or Cortland, which are infected by scab easily and need a lot of chemicals. But the scab-resistant apple varieties are not so popular because they taste and look different than dessert apples. We also struggle to use as few chemicals possible, because it is very expensive. It would be beneficial to use fewer chemicals in the product and have a lower cultivation cost. There is a huge difference between spraying five times and spraying twenty-five times.

Antje: In Germany, there are a growing number of consumers who want to buy organic products, and that makes it profitable to produce them. Do you see a market in Poland for products like organic apples?

Marian Orzeszek: There are organic farms. That it is a little little far-fetched, but they do not use any chemicals. We could also say that we only use the most selective insecticides that are not very strong and not toxic. These selective chemicals are just more expensive. But in times like these when everyone buys with their eyes—when everything has to be well-shaped, colorful, beautiful, and shiny? Organic products will always be of inferior quality. That’s a fact and there’s nothing you can do about that. If you want to produce a reasonable amount with organic production, you have to put a lot of work into it. Labor is expensive, and it is currently becoming even more expensive. No one will repay you for your labor costs when buying a product. An organic product has to be more expensive, because the yield is much lower. We’re facing so many different threats, so many things hinder our production, that we can only grow organic produce like that for personal use. A small plot of land with a little garden, where you can keep an eye on everything, do some weeding, etc … I don’t think organic production has a future on a larger scale.


Kooperatywa Spożywcza w Łodzi / Food Cooperative Łódź, Łódź, Poland

Alicja Kujawska: The organic cooperative in Łódź was established three or maybe even four years ago, but it has been organizing weekly meetings for the past three years. About thirty people buy on average each week, but it depends on the individual members. Some of them shop once a month, some of them once a week, but all in all we have a group of about seventy to 100 people buying at different times.

Antje: So let’s say you would like to have apples at home. How would the apples get to your kitchen?

Marta Dygowska: Through the cooperative. I know a lady who has her own orchard, a very small orchard with about twenty trees in total, and she is our sole supplier of apples. The apples are of different varieties, they are very diverse. And that is simply how it works.

Aleksandra: What varieties in particular?

Marta: Renetta, Lobo…

Martyna: They are organic apples. We do not want to eat apples with pesticides.

Marta: They come from naturally grown orchards. Our supplier has a so-called eco-certificate, which is issued in Poland. We trust her fully and we are sure that she does not use any kind of fertilizer. I call her every week to place an order; I tell her that we will need 10, 15 or 20 kg of apples and she delivers them every Thursday. There are no middlemen; she does the deliveries herself. The apples are then weighed and put into the boxes of the people who ordered them. They come to pick up their apples, pay through us and take them home.

Alicja: Of course, the weighing is not done by elves—it involves people from the cooperative who are part of the so-called weighing team.

Marta: The apples sold through our cooperative are the same price as those available at grocery stores or fruit and vegetable markets. We charge no extra fees, so the price is the same we pay to the producer, and in exchange we get a locally-grown, organic apple. The main difference is that we bypass the middlemen; they do not earn any money with us, so all of the money we collect makes its way back to the producer. I think this is really important, as it allows us to support the smallest-scale farmers.

Marta: In theory, our cooperative brings together about 100 people, but only thirty of them actively participate. Unfortunately, many people join us because they think we are a kind of online store that requires you to come and pick up the goods. They do not see the broader picture: for the initiative to work, someone has to actually do the work, because we do not hire people to weigh the apples and prepare all the products—we do it all by ourselves. They do not understand that we do it for free and get no money in return.

Alicja: Yes, the cooperative is an attempt to establish an alternative economy that brings us together mainly on the basis of friendship, trust and loyalty, because we have already been working with the same group of farmers and producers for some years now. It isn’t just farmers who are involved, but also juice producers for example, so it is an alternative to the system that distributes means of production beyond the scope of our community. We keep it local; we work with people based within a 100 km radius of Łódź. With the exception of working with other cooperatives, but this is based on the concept that cooperatives should mutually support each other, even on a European scale.

Antje: Are any producers members of this cooperative? Why do you want to help the local farmers?

Alicja: Because organic farming, or farming in general, is a very risky business in Poland. Organic farming requires obtaining various certificates, which are definitely not on the cheap side, and forces farmers to adhere to a wide range of regulations. Later on, it turns out that the organic shops have such high mark-ups that the farmers are unable to make a profit, which means they would be forced to give up their farms in the long run. We may be a small group—one cooperative does not make a huge difference—but we do our small part in building so-called community-supported agriculture. We feel responsible for the farmers we cooperate with for the simple reason that building mutual relations based on trust and loyalty, in which they supply us with fresh produce, requires reciprocation on our part. So we strive to be loyal to the farmers who sincerely try to meet our requirements and deliver the products we want.

Antje: Do you think that what you do is about freedom?

Alicja: Is this associated with freedom? Of course, it also evokes the spirit of self-determination, independence, the feeling of being free from the shops, which import apples from Israel and Spain, but do not care for the local farmers. This is fundamental.

Martyna: This also allows us to bypass the corporations.

Alicja: Furthermore, I would say the importance of reducing the carbon footprint should be considered. If the world continues on the road that it’s on, the demand for oil will increase. But all of our partners are just a short distance away.


Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), German Federal Research Center for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit Crops, Dresden-Pillnitz, Germany

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: I think society has to make up its mind what it wants. On the one hand, it wants to buy super high-quality fruit in the supermarket that virtually cost nothing. When you go into a supermarket, you find apples that are sold at ninety-nine cents per kilogram. For that price, someone has to produce fruit. And it has to be immaculate! Each apple is turned over ten times because you only want the best ones. And if I have to produce a thing like that, I have to apply the appropriate plant protection or integrate many resistances into one apple variety. If I was to forego this and, say, the society would be able to lower their expectations for quality a bit, and would be ready to pay a little bit more per kilogram of fruit, then we could certainly produce using different varieties and other farming methods. And then there is also this question: do we really need six or seven varieties on offer all year round? Do people have to be able to choose between the red, green, yellow, big, small, sweet, and sour ones, and do so fifty-three weeks in a year, all year round? In the old days, people would eat the seasonal fruit. The farmers had their gardens in their yards. There were spring varieties, late spring, late, and very late ones, and those for storage. Back then, they tried to extend the season—they did that with the help of varieties because they didn’t have the storage possibilities we have today. Now we produce huge quantities on the same acreage, and preferably all the same size. So the one switch we can turn is to make people more aware of their food, and also their willingness to spend money on food. The other thing, of course, is that we can maybe create better products with the means we have for breeding, plant protection and so on, so we could apply fewer plant protection agents and maybe still get a fairly good quality.


Warsaw University of Life Sciences SGGW, Department of Pomology, Warsaw, Poland

Kamil Jeziorek: In Europe, the market wants only very few varieties. Maybe four varieties. No more!

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: It’s genetic erosion. Because many of them have the same parents: Golden Delicious and Cox’s Orange.

Kamil Jeziorek: It depends on the consumer. If the consumer demands different tastes and ecological products, then the market can change. Otherwise, someone else will decide what the consumer will eat, and in the end we will have only two or maybe three varieties. Golden Delicious, Gala, and maybe something else.

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: But some people always want to eat the same variety, like Granny Smith, because it’s so pretty.

Antje: When I was in Morocco, two old farmers told me that in the old days they would grow very small apples that were used in tajine, the traditional dish, but only the old people still like them. The young people don’t like them because they are too small; they’re not in style. The most fashionable apple is Granny Smith, which is twice as expensive as the other apples, and they promote it as an apple that makes you slim, to lose weight. They sell it as a pharmaceutical.

  1. What is a variety actually?

Apple plantation, Ourika Valley, Morocco

Farmer: This is grafted now, so it can now produce fruit. This is the Delicious. And this one is a Gala. This is the Golden.


Warsaw University of Life Sciences SGGW, Department of Pomology, Warsaw, Poland

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: “Variety” means “cultivated variety”. When we use seeds from fruit, we never get varieties. We ought to graft. This is the so-called clonation, because every variety is a clone.


Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), German Federal Research Center for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit Crops, Dresden-Pillnitz, Germany

Antje: The fact that this is a variety comes down to a human decision to say, “Stop, we’ll take this one.”

Dr. Monika: Then we propagate it a-sexually. The same organism is grafted onto a different base again and again.

Antje: So it is actually a process of making this one organism immortal …

Dr. Monika Höfer: … a process of preservation. So it’s not a new breed, but it’s preserved.

Antje: And if this wild apple tree in your collection dies, that variety is lost?

Dr. Monika Höfer: No, because this one is grafted. If I want to preserve it because you like

the taste, because it’s rich in vitamins, or resistant, then of course I can also graft it again.

Antje: Sure. But if it was in the apple forest, this tree would fall over one day and that would be it. Just like it is with humans …

Dr. Monika Höfer: Yes.

Antje: I always think it’s so funny. As if you would say of a human being, “This particular child is great; let’s keep her alive for the next 150 years.”


Nursery and test orchard at Lubera, Bad Zwischenahn, Germany

Markus Kobelt: I founded our nursery Lubera more than twenty years ago, 1993 in Buchsen, in the Rhine valley of St. Gallen between Lake Constance and Grisons. Today we have a second location here in Bad Zwischenahn, Lower Saxony in northern Germany, where we are right now. We do most of the breeding in Switzerland. There we have six hectares of land where we breed apples and most other fruit species. Here in Bad Zwischenahn, we have a test field to test all the varieties under northern German conditions. That’s important for us, because we also sell a lot to England. The climate here is similar to the south of England.

We’re now standing by a field with roughly 15,000 apple trees. These scions you see here, next to the bamboo, were produced on the field, grafted, cultivated for one year, then cut down and now potted. Starting in August, they can be sold to garden centers, chains, and directly to our customers, who order from us online.


Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany

Eckart Brandt: This is where I propagate my old apple varieties. If I want a pure reproduction of a variety, then I have to take a twig like this. I have to cut this piece of wood in the winter. There have to be one, two, three eyes on it. That’s what you call a scion. Then I’ve got some stems from a nursery that grew these two meter-high ones for me. These are also fruit trees. At the bottom there is a base, or the fruit tree’s roots. This rootstock, as it is called, determines how the tree will grow, how tall it will be and how long it will live. Often, an interstem is grafted onto this base as well. The interstem is a variety whose sole purpose is to grow a thick, straight stem as quickly as possible. I cut this interstem at 1.70-1.80 meters. You still see where it was cut, and here I’ve grafted in my scion from the cultivar. That’s an old Prince apple I found somewhere in the Stade Geest and wanted to preserve. I inserted this little piece with three eyes back in March or April, and if I’m lucky, it will start to grow. And it’s only after this grafting spot right there that the tree is the variety that I actually want.

Antje: Could you also graft three different varieties onto one tree then?

Eckart Brandt: Yes. You could also do thirty, or 300 even. In the 19th century, this was suggested rather systematically by pomologists. If you have little space but still want to grow a great variety collection, you put a lot of them onto one tree. Overdieck,[20] one of the greatest pomologists of the 19th century, was a pastor and only had a small parish garden. Still, he tested and described several thousands of apple varieties.

Antje: An apple tree is actually an artificial creation, from root to top.

Eckart Brandt: It’s a product of the art of horticulture. If you allow apples to simply grow, it is a totally different theory. Sepp Holzer[21] does that, for example, with his permaculture approach. He grows trees from apple seedlings that are robust enough to grow at an elevation of 1100 meters, where our varieties wouldn’t really be able to manage. They become tousled, prickly bushes that protect themselves from wildlife with little, thorny branches that grow from the bottom of the stem. No rabitt or deer can get to them. You also get apples, but not necessarily as great as our cultivated varieties as far as quality, size, and taste go. Having a cultivar has its price, and all the others are forms that more or less regress back to the wild apple. Much more acidity, more tannins. Maybe you can make a nice cider from that …

Antje: Is there a seedling growing anywhere here by chance?

Eckart Brandt: Over there, at the edge of the field. You can see it just now, with a glimpse of the apples coming through. That’s an apple, no doubt, even if it’s not very big right now. No one would ever have planted an apple tree on that spot on purpose. It’s under a row of oak trees, so it doesn’t stand a chance of growing tall. It’s a chance seedling. Someone tossed out an apple core, and this apple tree grew from one of the seeds.

Try it. It’s rather sweet, not a very exciting aroma, though. By the looks of it, it could be a seedling from one of those apples over there. That’s an old meadow orchard, now used for grazing horses. It could even be a seedling from the Finkenwerder Herbstprinz. Or something completely different … These child varieties don’t necessarily taste like mom and dad. This variety is not that exciting, but I might occasionally cut a piece from it and bring it over the fence. It’s been here longer than my varieties. You can try one.

Antje: Thank you.

Eckart Brandt: So?

Antje: Is it ripe already?

Eckart Brandt: Well, almost, I think. It would probably get mealy soon. It’s still a little too crunchy, but that wouldn’t be the worst thing.

Antje: It’s pretty tasty.

Eckard Brandt: With these chance seedlings, the results are often totally different. It often “mendels” back towards the wild apple, and then you may suddenly find lots of tannins and a very tart taste. Almost our entire range of old apple varieties stems from chance seedlings. Until about 1880, when Uhlhorn[22] began with his nice crossbreeds in the Lower Rhine region, you only find old varieties that were discovered somewhere by chance. They weren’t bred deliberately, so we never know the parent varieties. It’s like a lottery with very few winning tickets. I mean, the apples have been doing this for millions of years now. The spectrum of original material must have really been spread out very, very broadly. You can also see that with the trees, by observing the kind of demands they have to an apple tree life. I don’t know any other fruit that is so adaptable. You find apples that like to grow in humid and acidic peat marshes and, in the other extreme, they practically grow on sand, like on a dune. We have a local variety, the Uphuser Tietjen apple, that grew out of the dunes by the Weser River, near Bremen.


Apfelgalerie, shop for apple varieties, Berlin, Germany

Caty Schernus: If you want apples to continue sowing their own seeds, for new breeds to emerge just because an apple ends up somewhere and the seedling manages to grow… then you have to have a spot where this can happen. The problem is that there are fewer and fewer gardens or wild plots left. Many fields are not only used for agriculture but also for energy harvesting, with wind turbines or solar panels on them. That’s what the Brandenburg farmers —fruit farmers, too—are complaining about now. There is less and less land left that they can rent and are allowed to use, because there is a lot of pressure to compete there as well. The farmers still growing something here choose to plant whatever gives them the best living. Right now it’s corn for the biogas plants. And there are foreign investors here, too, because land prices are still fairly low. And that’s how wild nature becomes more and more reduced.


  1. Where do the wild apples grow?

Jimmie Durham’s studio in Berlin, Germany

Antje: Johnny Appleseed? Do you know this story?

Jimmie Durham: A little better than I wished I did.

Antje: It’s a story about a guy who was a so-called pioneer and …

Jimmie Durham: No, it’s a story about a guy who wanted to take over Indian land. That’s what it’s about. He went around planting apple seeds … not planting apple seeds, but clearing land and cooperating with other people who cleared land of us, who took us away from the land! Clearing all of the native trees and planting European trees, but especially apple trees, which then became the basis of an apple industry in much of the early colonial U.S. And he got to be so famous that I had to learn about him in school, as this charmingly eccentric man with a pot on his head. It was just nonsense.

Antje: For me, in the story he comes across as someone who is giving. But at the same time it’s a very capitalist story, because he gave away the seeds only to tell the farmers, “I’ll come back later to get my share…”

Jimmie Durham: Yes.

Antje: … all while demarcating the land and telling the farmers, “plant it, plant it, wherever you can! And then when the trees grow, they will be yours!”[23] So you were saying there were apple trees before Johnny Appleseed arrived?

Jimmie Durham: They were not European apples. They are versions of crab apples and people

say they’re not good to eat. But white Americans think that all of our native things are not

good to eat. Some they absolutely refuse; they say it’s poison. I assure them it’s not, and they

say, “Oh yes, it’s not poison for you!” Like our native plums. But there are two or three versions of very small apples that hardly have any flesh, but sometimes they are beautifully tart. They are not good to just eat—although if you need to eat something, they are not bad to just eat! They are good to mix into a meat dish or something … something like that. Who knows about plants … Maria Theresa[24] studies plant distribution, but it’s quite a strange business. We have two nuts that are native. Black walnuts and hickory nuts. And these nuts, I just learned this year, also grow in parts of China. It means, some Cherokee missionaries went to China. (Laughs) We have a very primitive knowledge about when the continents were together, and how, for example, people came to the Americas. We say that they came from Mongolia, Siberia, over the “land bridge” at the Bering Strait. There was no “land bridge”— there was a continent! There was a forested continent there, full of people! So it wasn’t a “land bridge.” It was land. And this land had very complex forests that obviously had apple trees, and hickory nut trees and walnut trees and every kind of tree. So, South America is quite different, Australia is quite different, but so many things in North America … you find the same things in China, Asia, and on the East coast … you find so many things that are European also! So many plants, so many trees, that are also European.


Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), German Federal Research Center for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit Crops, Dresden-Pillnitz, Germany

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: There were a whole range of wild varieties involved in the cultivation of the apple, and these are closely related genetically. For one, there is the Malus sieversii,[25] but also the Caucasian apple Malus orientalis,[26] and the Siberian apple Malus baccata.[27] If you travel to these areas nowadays, especially into the area of the Caucasus in Russia, into Georgia, into Azerbaijan, then you see that people have always selected the single types of these wild varieties that tasted best, that had a nice fruit shape, maybe they also liked the color … and they grafted them and planted them into their gardens and allotments, so there has been a selection over the centuries, in a very natural way. And then there was the old Silk Road, this trade network. On this route, travellers went with their goods from China to Europe and to the Mediterranean, and thus also contributed to transport of these apple types from A to B. This mixed the genetic pool: types from the Tien Shan Mountains, where the Malus sieversii comes from, were grown in countries like Georgia and Azerbaijan. Types like these then came to Europe, where they were cultivated in the cloisters. And the descendants were selected again, which makes our modern, cultivated apple a conglomerate of properties from different wild apple species. When you travel to those areas where thousands of individual trees still live under natural conditions, you have the chance to find properties that have disappeared in our cultivated apple over the course of the selection process over the centuries.

Antje: There are wild apples in North America as well. They haven’t developed into cultivated apples. Can you tell why that may be?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Well, I think it’s because this area was far less densely populated. There were fewer trade movements. And, of course, the explorers gradually brought fruit over from Europe. There wasn’t this long process that happened in Asia, where people selected apples over centuries, from the wild apples to the cultivated varieties One could say that the process of growing civilization over there only started rather late, as people advanced into areas where wild apples . Nevertheless, those wild apple varieties are also interesting to us, and breeders both there and here use them to find characteristics.

Antje: Is it conceivable that this selection you’ve just described never happened, simply because the population there consisted of nomadic people who wouldn’t plant an apple tree next to their house?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Yes, and also because there were just far fewer people. The whole of horticulture was developed in the Asian countries. There were the Circassians in the Caucasus, for example, who had an ancient horticulture and cultivated fruit on their mountain terraces, cultivated simple vegetables, to feed themselves.[28] This did not happen to that extent with nomadic peoples. They also didn’t have this exchange between the continents that Europe and Asia always had; they didn’t transport things over great distances that were initially traded as exotic goods, but later entered into common use to the degree that we now enjoy them as basic foodstuff.


Food Cooperative Łódź / Kooperatywa Spożywcza w Łodzi, Łódź, Poland

Alicja: I don’t know about you, but I actually like the old varieties of apples very much. These plant varieties were developed in our climate, on our soil, so they are more likely to withstand unfavorable weather conditions. This is valuable; it is a part of our cultural heritage, and I think that for this reason alone, it is worth preserving this kind of diversity.

Marta: I also think about old varieties of plants and vegetables that were eradicated and are extremely hard to get hold of, even though they are, in essence, Polish. One example is kale, which is nearly impossible to buy, or Jerusalem artichoke, which is very easy to grow, but since it’s not profitable, no one grows it. I am very sad that you are unable to buy many solely Polish vegetables and fruit in Poland.

Alicja: Parsnip is another plant that is practically unknown today, and so is black salsify.

Antje: This is very interesting. When you talk about “local,” the local is often global as well. If you talk about the local Jerusalem artichoke, for example, it came from South America.[29] The potato is the most local food in Germany and in Poland, and it is also from South America.[30] The apple once came mainly from Kazakhstan. It is very interesting to follow the different origins of plants, and to realize that people in Europe have always been living in a global world. The trade roots have always been very global, even more than 2,000 years ago. I think the local is very valuable when it comes to the carbon footprint. But as for the local flora, if you were to really only plant what was growing here before humans arrived, you probably would not find any of the plants that are growing in the gardens or in the parks today.

Alicja: When I talk about biodiversity and cultural heritage, I talk about the fact that some plants were imported from Kazakhstan many centuries ago, but became local by living here. Certain varieties were cultivated by local gardeners. This kind of cultural heritage feels worthy of preservation. It’s not about living in so-called nature, because nature is us. I’m not an eco-obsessive; I’m completely aware of the fact that we’re living in a culture and that it’s still developing. So we can treat plants as a symbol, a sign of our locality and globality.


Department of Gene Resources and Nurseries, Research Institute of Pomology and Floriculture, Skierniewice, Poland

Grzegorz Hodun: This is a collection of wild types. If you saw these in the wild, I think you would not be able to tell which kind of plant it is. This tree is bearing fruit now, but it hasn’t for the past eight years. The leaves develop a beautiful discoloration. This is an apple tree. But when we look at it closely, it doesn’t resemble an apple tree at all …

Antje: And where do these wild types come from?

Grzegorz Hodun: Some are ones people brought back from their various excursions—they stumbled upon interesting varieties during their travels and brought back some scions. For example, I obtained some varieties and species from Dresden-Pillnitz in Germany as part of an exchange. These are very interesting, because the person that sent them to me selected varieties, like Malus sargentii or Malus zumi, for example, that possess resistance genes that make them immune to powdery mildew, among other things. Right now, we’re seeing the biggest problems with Malus płonka, also known as Malus sylvestris.[31] It is a wild species of apple that used to grow in forests. I managed to find it two years ago in a forest near Łódź, of all places.

Antje: It was named European Tree of the Year two or three years ago; the Malus sylvestris was registered for protection, because it is almost extinct in Europe.

Grzegorz Hodun: As far as I know, it is difficult to find a pure Malus sylvestris. We had a number of visitors, including Monika Höfer from Dresden-Pillnitz, who came here in search of Malus sylvestris trees. They searched the Białowieża Forest, but could not find any Malus sylvestris as it turned out.


Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), German Federal Research Center for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit Crops, Dresden-Pillnitz, Germany

Dr. Monika Höfer: Now we are in the fruit gene bank at the Julius Kühn-Institut.

I’m curator of the fruit gene bank. We have about 3,000 different samples. If they are cultivated apples, we call them varieties—if they are wild apples, we call them samples. Depending on the classification, there are between twenty and fifty different wild types.

Antje: That is more than I thought. Where do they come from?

Dr. Monika Höfer: All of the wild types can only be found in the northern hemisphere. The genetic center for the Malus is Asia, Southeast Asia. That is where the original apples developed, and then they spread from there. We are standing in the Malus wild species collection, where the Malus sieversii in particular are located. Malus sieversii is the main ancestor of our cultivated apples. We received seed material from expeditions to Kazakhstan organized by the US. At first, we had 1,000 seedlings: 1,000 trees growing on their own root base. Those were characterized, their resistance was assessed, their morphology observed. And of course, we examined the fruit. Of these 1,000, we chose 94 in order to graft them and to have them stand in this seed bank. Malus sieversii is a wild species. It has a great diversity. You can find apples that are very small and green and taste like nothing, but also big, delicious apples. We have resistance to scab and mildew, and susceptible wild apple samples of this wild type. That’s why there’s no such thing as the apple tree; there are many. Every seed is a different tree, a different sample. We wanted to display the diversity, a core collection with as little material as possible. They are very diverse in terms of size, the starting time of the blossom, time of ripening, falling of the leaves in autumn …

Antje: Have you tried to crossbreed them with cultivars?

Dr. Monika Höfer: Our breeder has used some selected samples and included them in his work.

Antje: Has this already resulted in a new variety?

Dr. Monika Höfer: No!

Antje: That takes too long, doesn’t it?

Dr. Monika Höfer: Exactly. (Laughs)

Antje: Do you have North American apples in your collection as well?

Dr. Monika Höfer: Yes, over here. Basically there are two types of apples in North America. One is the Malus coronaria,[32] it is flattened and the wood is silvery. It comes from the middle part of North America, over to the east coast. They all look like that; they don’t turn red. You are welcome to try, though it’s not very appetizing. And here is a second type, Malus fusca,[33] which grows on the North American west coast—in the state of Oregon, for example. And its apples … here!

Antje: You hardly see these anymore.–Malus sylvestris has become very rare.

Dr. Monika Höfer: Yes, the European wild apple, Malus sylvestris, could theoretically grow anywhere in Europe, but it is a secondary tree. In forestry, it is not in the foreground. It mainly grows on the fringes of the forest and in clearings. Within the forest itself, it has way too much competition from other tree species. And of course it is a competitor for agriculture; if it grows on the fringes of the woods, it is pushed back. Also, the wild types—in our case the Malus sylvestris—can still be crossbred with our cultivated varieties that grow in gardens and fruit plantations. So it does happen that you will find hybrids in our countryside as well.

Antje: There are no uses for Malus sylvestris, are there?

Dr. Monika Höfer: But yes, older people still know that they used to drink fruit teas in their childhood. It has a fairly high vitamin C content, this crab apple, and the tea tastes quite nice.

Antje: If there was a pathogen that spread all over Europe, and a lot of the cultivated varieties were susceptible to it, is it possible that you would fall back on the Malus sieversii?

Dr. Monika Höfer: That is possible, yes. If we were looking for it. New resistances, new health promoting substances … it’s quite possible that researchers would do a screening and look for it. That’s why it is so important to preserve the forests over there, in situ.


Kazakhstan booth at the International Green Week festival in Berlin, Germany

Aidos Baltayev: I’m representing Kazakhstan and Kazakhstan is well known for our own, naturally-grown apples. We grow apples only in one part of Kazakhstan, in the south, and the city is called Almaty. Almaty actually translates from Kazakh, our own language, as “Apple City” or “Grand Apple.” The smell of our apples is great and everyone in Germany is attracted to the smell of the apples. They smell natural, and they do smell like forest—like all fruits combined in one apple. I wanted to compare one of our apples to the German ones, but they did not smell good, they smelled like plastic, but they had a very good taste indeed. These are our apples, made in Kazakhstan. These apples are a new variety called Aport. They are very sweet, and taste as if you were eating sugar mixed with honey and covered all that with caramel. That is the taste of our apples. Welcome to Kazakhstan, and eat our apples, and stay healthy. Thank you.


On the way up the mountains of Ile-Alatau National Park, near Almaty, Kazakhstan

Erzhan Ashim Kitzhan-uly Oralbekov: I’m an activist with the movement “Save Kok Zhailyau”. To save the valley of Kok Zhailyau, close to Almaty city.

Antje: This could be a Sievers apple, couldn’t it?

Erzhan: Maybe it’s a Sievers apple… (he tries the apple) Yes, it’s not so sweet. It’s not a cultivated apple. Not so sweet. And this apple? Also not sweet. Is it a real Sievers apple tree, grand-grandmother and grand-grandfather of all apples on planet Earth? Growing on the slopes of the mountains dividing the city of Almaty and Kok Zhailau Valley. All around Almaty, there are many places where we can find apple trees, Sievers and also Niedzwetzki apples. But unfortunately, civilization destroys many places around Almaty nowadays. And these places, where we could find apple trees, wild apple trees, become fewer and fewer. I think, we should keep this wild state of our nature. For nomadic people it was impossible to think about buying or selling land. We tried to explain this knowledge and the situation to those in power in our city: that this land belongs to all people of the city of Almaty, and also of Kazakhstan.

On this land they might build a ski resort for the pleasure of rich people. People with average incomes have no use for the services of a ski resort, and no use for a golf course either. Simple people, middle class people need this land as wild nature, as a part of a national park. It’s not an object for commerce. This land belongs to all people!


Office of the Green Salvation Ecological Society, NGO organization, Almaty, Kazakhstan

Green Salvation: Our organization is Green Salvation. It was founded twenty-two years ago and registered as a nonprofit organization. We are small, only ten people, and the main aim is to protect the human right to a healthy environment. We try to protect our untainted nature and natural parks—because the majority of the wilderness, where the apple tree grows, was turned into a national park by order of our government. Right now, we have another problem in Almaty, namely land without owners. Because it’s strange sometimes: we get the answer that nobody knows who the owner of this land is. It doesn’t belong to the city, not to the region, but who is the owner? There is no separation between authorities of the Republic, local authorities, and private enterprises. For example, the national park was the property of the national government. But because the administrative boundaries have changed, a large part of the national park is now inside the city boundaries. Local authorities consider this land to belong to the city and not the national park. And this conflict has been going on for many years already. And this is about the main area of forests of wild apples near Almaty city.


Zhongar-Alatau State National Natural Park, Kazakhstan

Ainur Jamantaeva: Zhongar-Alatau State National Natural Park was created in 2010 following resolution number 370 by the government of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The surface area of the national park totals 356,022 ha. The founding of our national park goes back to the Sievers apple, which is considered the mother of all domestic apple breeds on Earth. Our first goal is to protect the apple tree, and at the same time to preserve it in its current state. There are 72 species of endemic plants that only exist inside the national park. Additionally, there are a lot of endangered plants. The national park is very rich and unique, you’re welcome to visit!


In the wild apple woods

Sergei Filatov: Bear!

Vladimir Kolbintsew: Bear droppings … oh yes, there is seed! Ready to grow. And to make the best apple. [34]–I’m a biologist and at the present time, I am a field naturalist. I’m very interested in botany and always looking for different plants, and standing in this wonderful apple woodland, I feel absolutely happy! Now we are in the middle of the Dzungarian Alatau Mountains, in the middle of the ancient paradise, because everywhere around us is Malus sieversii. This is a middle altitude, about 1,300 m, the best altitude for Malus sieversii. I stand in a real apple woodland, slightly mixed with aspen, spruce, and some other smaller trees. Malus sieversii has been growing here for several million years already, but for how long, nobody knows. But anyway, it’s still around and it’s still producing lots of apples. Every tree is different: different taste, different shape, different texture of fruit. And some trees are pretty old. Today we found some trees that are almost, from my point of view, 1,000 years old. This apple woodland is a very protected area—protected by the state, because Malus sieversii is a very endangered species. Endangered, because a bad fire could happen, killing all the apple woodland. So it is protected by the government, because it’s the main heart and the main source of Malus genus biodiversity.


Sergei Filatov: You’ve come to the Zhongar-Altau natural reserve to view and admire the Sievers apple tree. This tree is the most precious thing we have in Kazakhstan. The apple tree is for the most part only distributed on our territory. It is a very rare creature that we need to preserve in order to have new growth. We allocate special areas in the forest, where we collect the seeds and create forest nurseries. Scientists come and examine the trees: are there any diseases? [If we suspect something, then] we mark them with markers and notify [the scientists], so that the cases can be examined. Then aerial spraying is carried out.


Robert Gaber (Arche Noah Foundation): You find the codling moth here, just like you do in Europe. Here’s the hole it dug, the half-eaten seed, and the almost fully-grown grub. It will soon dig its way out of the apple and pupate in the ground. Next spring, in this area probably in May, it will lay its eggs on the apples again. The hatched grubs then eat their way into the apple. This is Monilinia fructicola. It usually appears when the apple is punctured or eaten by wasps. That’s when this fungus can invade the fruit, which leads to foul apples. You don’t see scab on the leaves here, and rarely on the fruit. But it may depend on the weather.

We are from the Arche Noah Foundation. We came to get to know the origins of the apple and most of all to see the apple forests that grow nowhere else on the planet. The Arche Noah Foundation works to preserve diversity in cultivated plants. We have been working on the issue of the apple for thirty years now. It’s simple: the origin of the apple is here; this is the birth place of our apples. So we really wanted to see it once.

Bernd Kajtna: Within the association, I’m responsible for the collection of fruit varieties and also work in the administration. Arche Noah Foundation is an association that takes care to preserve old fruit and vegetable varieties that are rare and threatened by extinction. We have a network of people who grow old varieties in their gardens, and we also have a gene bank, the variety archive, where we preserve about 6,000 different varieties. We have been collecting apples in Austria for many years now. Here we wanted to see for ourselves which local conditions the Malus sieversii needs, so we can draw conclusions for our cultivated varieties. There are many apples here that have few bitter substances, a lot of sugar and an attractive size—you can really imagine that the apple we all know emerged from that.


Vladimir Kolbintsev: We just found an apple that tastes wonderful. A very pretty old apple, maybe a hundred years old. And only we found a single fruit! Why? Look down at the ground! It’s completely bare, no vegetation at all. Because domestic animals, horses, and cattle stay here and wait for the best apples.

Bernd Kajtna: We’ve selected this apple from the ones we found because it tastes the best to us. We took some scions of it to graft them onto trees that we will then plant and give away for free.

Antje: You do you think the apple trees were planted?

Robert Gaber: No, not planted. But they were the result of selection. The nomads were in the flatlands in spring, and in summertime they came up with all their cattle. They used apple trees as food for the herds as well, so they cleaned the other trees. Apples have fruit that is good for the sheep as well, so they let them grow—that’s the reason why we have apples, I think, in monoculture.

Johannes Maurer: So it’s cultured land. Not wilderness.


Robert Gaber: The apple trees will vanish because of imported species, because of oak and Acer (maples), and—well, what else? Populus … The apple stands no chance against all these species. The oaks, they are …

Vladimir Kolbintsev: … really strong!

Robert Gaber: Yeah! They’ve got bigger leaves than in Austria!

Antje: And who do you think imported the oaks?

Vladimir Kolbintsev: People, of course!

Antje: Yeah, but like the rangers here or which people?

Vladimir Kolbintsev: No, no, no! I’m sure it happened before. Sixty years ago, in the early 1950s. This area used to be for forestry. Forestry: planting and introducing new trees from all around the world. You can find European oak, American Acer negundo

Antje: So the apple trees have been here for some millions of years …

Vladimir Kolbintsev: What, apples? Of course!

Antje: … and now you give them another …

Vladimir Kolbintsev: I think apples have been here for several million years, but no more than five million years. It’s a relict! It’s a real relict species. But I think it’s still okay in other areas, for example in more arid and dry areas in the northern part of the Western Tien-Shan and Karatau Mountains—there it’s okay. But there are very few apples, very few specimens. And they are okay.

Antje: And here, what do you think? How many years until they disappear?

Vladimir Kolbintsev: Well, I can only guess. Maybe one hundred years, maybe three hundred, but there will certainly be a change.

Antje: And do you think that anything can be done about it?

Vladimir Kolbintsev: I’m not sure. It’s easy to destroy, but more difficult to reconstruct something.


Institute of Ecology and Stable Development, Almaty, Kazakhstan

Anatoliy Michshenko: For some years, I have been working in the area of apple diversity and species protection. There are two different ways of thinking about the wild apple: from one point of view, you think about the apple as a wild orchard; from the other, you think about the apple as a dominant species of a particular mountain range. If we are thinking about the apple as a part of the forests, I think it will disappear in a few decades. We have studied 14,000 ha of wild population and found only a few hundred hectares of untouched areas. There are several reasons for this: inadequate management of wild forests, genetic degradation, and last but not least, grazing. And climate change.


Vladimir Kolbintsev: In former days, people were much more friendly with nature. In medieval times, in prehistoric times … When people started grazing their animals on these mountains, it was just natural grazing combined with the grazing of wild animals. Eventually, people started to think about protecting nature; they began to create nature reserves and national parks where grazing is no longer allowed. But by that time, most of the wild animals had almost disappeared from this area. So today, we have no grazing in the national park at all, very little natural grazing, and no man-made grazing. The result was that the area is overgrowing. So, what is happening in the untouched area? Difficult to know. But today, you saw how tall the vegetation is, how the trees are growing and creating a canopy and a lot of shade, and the young trees cannot compete with the other trees. That’s probably the reason why the apple trees cannot renew themselves in this area.

Antje: What about climate change; do you think this will affect the apple trees?

Vladimir Kolbintsev: It’s difficult to tell how fast the climate is changing. Well, of course it’s affecting the trees. The climate has always been changing on Earth, always. But now, humans are making a little of an extra effort to change it. But I am not sure how much. The apple is much older than the last ice age. Most likely the apple managed several ice ages. It’s okay.

Antje: I hope it will also manage the next change.

Vladimir Kolbintsev: I hope so.

Antje: Well, certainly it has created a solution to survive for itself—the solution that humans bring it into very different climate zones, just in different forms …

Vladimir Kolbintsev: Yeah, yeah … well, something will happen. It’s evolution! There has always been, and there will always be change. A long time ago, there was no life on earth, then it was the time of the dinosaurs, and so on … Now it’s the time of the humans. Eventually, humans will disappear from Earth … It’s normal!


Back at the hut. The men from Arche Noah are collecting seeds from wild apples.

Antje: I think I will have to come and visit you, to have a look at what becomes of this …

Johannes Maurer: You can have a little tree then.

Antje: But you mix them all up now, right?

Vladimir Kolbintsev: Let’s not mix the good ones with the bad ones! (Laughs).


On the return journey, we spend the night in a Yurt on the shore of an alkaline lake. In the evening, I take the opportunity to ask Bernd Kajtna about possible problems in bringing the Malus sieversii to Europe in this way.

Antje: You’ve taken seeds and also some twigs now.

Bernd Kajtna: Yes, we have collected a few apples … no particular ones, just what was there in the apple forests. Our only concern is to grow some wild apple seeds and also to plant some of these wild apple trees in gardens in Austria, just to preserve the species, to observe it and to see how it fares at other latitudes. The export of propagation material is problematic for several reasons: on the one hand, there is the legal aspect that you are not allowed to take plants from one country to another without a permit. That’s also for plant protection. You might inadvertently bring a new parasite or a new disease into another country and spread it that way. Another aspect is that here in Kazakhstan, the apple is an important genetic resource; it’s the origin, and it might not be that legitimate to take genetic material away in order to profit from that. But as long as you only do it to preserve the species and to observe it, there is nothing that speaks against it. It becomes more problematic when it comes to gene-piracy: they take plants from wherever and develop a new variety, or a medicine from it, and then earn a lot of money with that. That’s when they’ve taken something that a lot people have taken care of before, and keep all the profit for themselves.

Antje: But you don’t plan to do that. You only want to preserve a species that’s endangered here in Kazakhstan for various reasons …

Bernd Kajtna: Yes. We don’t plan to market this big time; you can’t make a profit with it. There’s always been the allegation of bio-piracy. That’s why the international community has agreed in lengthy negotiations to introduce a set of rules in order to restrict this and guide it into regulated channels. That’s the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.[35] This international treaty regulates what a profit adjustment should look like in the future. It means that someone who puts effort into something, like preserving the wild apple, for example, also profits if someday a product that makes a lot of money on the market is developed from this genetic resource. We could now act according to this treaty: if we propagate and hand over the apple we’re taking now, then I—as the person who appropriated it—would have to sign a contract with the one I’m handing it over to. There are standard contracts available for that. And if he passes it on, then he also has to sign a contract with the next person. And if ever someone comes along and produces something important from that, which he then sells, then it could be traced back to Kazakhstan. It is theoretically possible that profits from these sales flow back into the protection of the wild apple.

Antje: I want to try to graft the twig I took, to propagate it and to plant those new trees on free spaces in cities where once again they won’t belong to anyone.

Bernd Kajtna: You can’t regulate that with a contract, of course not. You also have to differentiate: protecting the species will surely not work if you only plant five trees somewhere in Austria. We can only preserve the apple’s genetic pool if there are many thousands of trees in which really all the potential properties are preserved for posterity. If I just take out a small part of it, I have only saved a small portion of the genes. It’s far more important to preserve the occurrence of the apple here, and only secondary to take seeds and grow trees, to study and observe what potential there is for breeding. That’s also legitimate, and I don’t think it should be restricted. It should basically be possible for anyone to act as a breeder. It shouldn’t be limited to research institutes. Actually, that’s how the apple emerged, from people like you and me just taking fruit from the forest and planting it somewhere else, and propagating them and selecting the best ones—that’s not something any researcher has done, or a company. The farmers did that.

That is a fundamental right that everyone still has. The free exchange of propagation material, be it seeds or scions, must not be restricted by various legal frameworks. Otherwise, to stay with the example of the apple, it would lead to one corporation being allowed to extract new varieties from the Kazakhstani apple forests and applying for a patent. Kazakhstan is not currently an EU member, but theoretically it may even be illegal to take apple seeds or scions within the country itself, just as there are plans to ban it within the EU.

Europe still is diverse; every member state has different legal frameworks for regulating the transfer of seeds or scions. Austria is the most liberal country in the whole of the EU, so at the moment it is still legal in Austria to pass on seeds of rare varieties. But it may not be allowed in Austria in the future, as with other countries in the EU. That’s because they are planning a regulation that massively restricts the free exchange of rare varieties. That’s the EU seed regulation, which will also extend to propagation material in general.[36]

Antje: Who benefits from regulation?

Bernd Kajtna: There are a few seed corporations that dominate the market. If it is made more difficult for smaller companies to survive on this market, then there will once again be an even bigger concentration of companies selling fruit varieties and seeds.

Antje: Could you call this agro-capitalism—the ever-greater reduction towards a few varieties in the hands of big corporations?

Bernd Kajtna: Yes, definitely! A restriction of the seed market through strict regulations only helps those few corporations who are already dominating the market today. This makes it more difficult for smaller companies to bring rare varieties, specialties, and rarities to market at all. It makes life very difficult for specialized tree nurseries that want to only offer old varieties, or makes their survival impossible.

Antje: So there is a connection between capitalism and a global homogenization …

Bernd Kajtna: That is certainly true. It is interesting that this niche market of old fruit varieties, which is virtually negligible from the point of view of competition, is supposed to be reduced even further. Because it harms absolutely no one, not even the big corporations. That makes it even more absurd. Its only obvious purpose is to strengthen the system: it is only permitted to offer the homogenous, whatever I can sell all over the world, and doesn’t cause any trouble. So anything that can’t be marketed worldwide is only trouble. We don’t need it, so it’s best to ban it.


Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany

Eckart Brandt: The aim is to have the state lay down which apple variety should be put on the market, which apple varieties can be propagated, which varieties can have a future and which ones cannot. And I don’t know why this has to be regulated. This sector has been manipulated so much already that we have a fairly distinct, standardized range that dominates the entire market. Why do we have to also regulate this side stage that has almost no economic relevance? I find it absolutely preposterous because this kind of regulation madness can flatten out an entire genetic resource. I think the old varieties have to be preserved as well, because so many characteristics lie dormant in them that we will need them for the future. The climate is changing; in the next decades, we might need completely different apples that carry different resistances to diseases and parasites we may not even know yet, and if we don’t have a broad basis then, with a broad range of the most diverse properties, then we’ll find ourselves in a weak position.

It doesn’t make any sense. It may have a kind of deeper meaning as an attempt to have only specific, standardized food on the market. And to have it fully under control, and hand that over to whichever big corporations have a license for it. That would suit these people best. And that must not happen!


Nursery and test orchard at Lubera, Bad Zwischenahn, Germany

Markus Kobelt: Bureaucracy always tends to run wild. If you leave too much to the state, it comes up with the most unbelievable ideas. On the one hand, they’re good: the variety protection we have in Europe, for example—but why do they have to regulate everything? Why do we need plant passports? Why does a plant need a passport to move around? Within Germany, from one state to the other … that’s rather ridiculous. In times of open borders, where we have to deal with foreign things all the time, good and bad. This is ridiculous!

That’s also a topic I love, all this talk of invasive neophytes.[37] That’s also such nonsense. There are a handful of dangerous plants that can actually cause health problems. But those you always have. That’s like a disease or so. The climate is changing, so the vegetation will change as well. Why should I protect it? I’m glad that it adapts, and that if a cherry laurel suddenly grows in the forest … I, for my part, don’t oppose in principle. Or a butterfly bush that grows on the edge of a stream. It’s essentially alien … by the way, that’s Nazi-ideology to talk about alien plants … and today it’s mainly talk coming from the Greens and socalists. It makes me happy; to me it’s like a subversive plant! And then it freezes to death at times, and then it grows again …


Bernd Kajtna: There shouldn’t be any restrictions at all, in our opinion. It isn’t necessary that I have to first register a variety in order to produce seeds, sell them, or pass them along. We are convinced that all the varieties should basically be freely accessible and free to propagate. But an approval procedure like this should still be an option for a farmer who considers it important to only get seeds that are state-approved.

I can explain it with the example of the apple: we chose this scion here in Kazakhstan and took it with us. The export is the one problem. And the next problem is that once this new seed regulation comes to effect, I am not allowed to propagate and sell this new variety (which is not a variety as yet, only a wild find) through my nursery. It’s illegal because it is a chance seedling that hasn’t been available on the European market before. If I want to sell it, I would have to register this variety. That implies I need to go through an elaborate approval procedure, meaning a process that goes on for several years and costs several thousand euros, and only when the variety has been approved will I be allowed to sell a tree of it. This is something that the Arche Noah Foundation cannot do, simply because selling the variety would require investing too much money. It would be better if you were allowed to take a find to market right away. That really is a massive restriction.

Antje: If you compare this to the 19th century, where they feverishly discovered, described, and praised new varieties …

Bernd Kajtna: That’s a good comparison. That’s why we try to preserve as many old varieties as possible. It isn’t just Arche Noah doing that; preserving biodiversity is a stated goal of the EU. Just consider that those old varieties would have never developed if people two- or three hundred years ago hadn’t taken seedlings they found, described and propagated them.


  1. How do new varieties emerge?

Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany

Antje: There are only few patents on plants so far. Are there any apples among them?[38]

Eckart Brandt: No, not yet I believe, but there are enough club varieties already: varieties that require you to pay a license fee first.[39] Club apples are new breeds of apple varieties that were deliberately commissioned by clubs of interested parties, maybe some companies, an association of producers … They hand out specific guidelines: please make the apple look like this or that … and then only the members are allowed to market this apple, at least for quite some time, some years. Of course, you can always buy material paying a license fee, or buy apples and sell them. But there is always a license holder in between who demands his share. That should not be allowed to expand to the entire fruit farming sector, with its hundreds of varieties. There’s been more than one attempt; some corporations tried to put a license on an already-existing variety that they had only fiddled with a little bit, so that others couldn’t get hold of it anymore.

Antje: Say you collect a variety from somebody’s garden … that person won’t demand a license fee from you, will they?

Eckart Brandt: No, usually that person didn’t also invent the variety. Well, if they could prove that their grandpa had grown this variety from a seed or something like that, they could try, but they would have to go all the way through the official system to get this approved. For example, we have a Holsteiner Cox here—a red mutant of it. A tree nursery here in Land Hadeln discovered it on their lot, propagated it a little and brought it into circulation, calling it the Red Holsteiner Cox Type Esselborn. So now it’s still milling around in the history of fruit farming, and the offspring are annoyed that grandpa failed to register a license for it in time. “We could still be raking in the money,” they say.


Warsaw University of Life Sciences SGGW, Department of Pomology, Warsaw, Poland

Kamil Jeziorek: In Austria, they plant 3,000–3,500 trees per hectare in intensive fruit farming. They mainly grow red varieties and club varieties. To grow club apples, you need to buy the license, and you cannot take it for granted that you will have the money to do this.

Antje: And who gives out the license?

Kamil Jeziorek: If I am the author of this variety, I can give out the license.

Antje: Take the Ligol, for example. Is there a club license for the Ligol?

Kamil Jeziorek: No, because this variety is from the Research Institute of Horticulture in Skierniwice, which is not private but a government institution. They do it for our growers, without a license.


Nursery and test orchard at Lubera, Bad Zwischenahn, Germany

Antje: When you do all this work over so many years, this breeding work, is that profitable for you?

Markus Kobelt: Well, I’ve already discussed this with my trustee and tax accountant. He says it isn’t profitable. And I say, that’s why we exist. The whole history of our business … I started off twenty years ago with a single Kosovo-Albanian employee. We dug the soil, and we potted and produced plants, and today we have thirty, forty employees in two locations. Shows that it works, doesn’t it? Because breeding new varieties, new products, is the motor of our business. I believe that an important factor lies in the fact that we are not breeding for commercial fruit farming, but mainly for the hobby gardener at home. We therefore have a clear target audience that I always have in mind when I select. We also sell directly to gardeners, so we get to hear it. I spent three days at Ippenburg Castle last weekend, attending a spring festival, and we spoke to hundreds of gardeners. That’s how you hear about their problems, and then you imagine the solutions. So we have a very low hurdle when it comes to bringing plants to market. We don’t aim to conquer the whole world market with every new apple, and end up with nothing. This happens to the state research institutions working a major operation in order maybe to end up finding one successful variety. We want to represent the whole of the apple world, from early to late ones, all colors, even unknown ones with unknown tastes, and every niche is interesting for us. A small apple like this with a wonderful taste and a slightly reddish color is worth considering bringing it to market, because it has a very special shape. We can fill these niches, bring the plants to market and recover the money directly. And then of course, the licencing of varieties to third parties, mainly for commercial fruit farming, is important and interesting for us, because the income we make from it means direct returns, direct profits. So far we mainly managed to do this with the Redloves® and one or two of the Paradise® varieties.

Antje: Redlove® is a trademark, isn’t it?
Markus Kobelt: Yes.

Antje: Where do you have to register a trademark like that?

Markus Kobelt: With the global patent offices, or with the markets that you want to enter. But it’s only the name, the brand that is protected. Apart from this there is the variety protection that protects genetic homogeneity. There are several procedures in place: in the EU, there is the variety protection, in the US also a patent protection. And you can have both protected.

Antje: How long does this variety protection last?

Markus Kobelt: Variety protection? Twenty, twenty-five years I believe. The trademark protection is something you can renew time and again. The difference is that within the European system, which I personally like, anyone can use even variety-protected varieties to continue breeding himself. Without this effect, we wouldn’t have been able to start breeding in the first place. By now, after twenty years, we strongly depend on our old breeding lines. Eighty percent of the varieties I use for hybridizing are ones that I bred. But when you start off, you gather everything there is. In the American system, with its patent protection, this wouldn’t be possible. The American system has the advantage that patent protection is a lot cheaper than variety protection. For niche products, for small breeders, variety protection is actually too expensive. Still it is essential that I can use any variety on the market for my breeding. That’s quite important.

Antje: And what do you think about the American trade treaty that they want to introduce now, the TTIP?[40] There are these two treaties that they are currently discussing: one with Canada and another one with the US.

Markus Kobelt: Well, I don’t know the details. If it meant that we could no longer use the varieties for breeding, I’d think it’s a pity. This will create monopolies. Companies like ours would have a lot more difficulties entering the market. Still, as long as the law in Europe remained the same for the European varieties, then I think that would suffice for the most part. The American varieties are really not that important so far.


  1. How do new varieties emerge?

Eckart Brandt: This one is called the Filippa apple, with an “F” because it’s Danish. It’s a descendant of the famous Gravenstein. We know its story very well. It goes back to the daughter of a Danish teacher named Filippa Johansen. She wanted to experiment and planted two Gravenstein seeds in a flower pot. They sprouted, and when they grew a little bigger, she planted them in the garden. And then a stray cow came and ate one of the seedlings before it could even blossom or bear fruit. The other one survived and bore these beautiful, fragrant apples. So it was named the Filippa apple.


Warsaw University of Life Sciences SGGW, Department of Pomology, Warsaw, Poland

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: This one is Ligol. It comes from crossing Linda and Golden Delicious. I selected it in 1972. It took many, many years of waiting, for different reasons … but anyway, the producers decided it is really good, and it immediately brought such high yields … (laughs). There is another advantage of Ligol: you can store it year-round, twelve months or longer, without any change of characteristics.

Antje: Wow, how did you manage that?

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: (laughs) Pure luck. You also need a lucky break in breeding in order to be successful. My friends in the institute have many thousand seedlings and no results. These were only about twenty seedlings, and two top varieties: Ligol and Ligolina. Ligolina is the sister of this one.

Kamil Jeziorak: You are a lucky man.


Industrial apple farm, Michrow, Poland

Marian Orzeszek: Both Ligolina and Ligol are cultivated here. Ligol bears a bit smaller fruits. The Ligolina variety is much more remarkable.


Warsaw University of Life Sciences SGGW, Department of Pomology, Warsaw, Poland

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: Breeding programs started in the 19th century. Before that, it was coincidence.–If you want to breed a new variety, you should first decide on a goal. What are we looking for? For resistances? For red skin, for shape, or for very long shelf life? Once we decide, we look for the parents. Which will be the mother, which will be the father … then we go into the orchards or the botanical garden where the parents of this new creation grow. First you emasculate the mother, and in the next step, you pollinate using pollen from the father. After this, we wait and get seeds. We germinate the seeds and select from the descendants, and look for the properties we aimed for.


Nursery and test orchard at Lubera, Bad Zwischenahn, Germany

Markus Kobelt: My assistant in Switzerland is hybridizing right now. She’s having a little of hard luck because the weather is so bad. Every time the sun shines, she has to rush out and pollinate. And that’s how you do it: you decide on the father variety and the mother variety. Before the blossom opens, when the buds are in their balloon stage, the trees of the mother variety are covered in insect-proof nets to make sure that no insects can get in and pollinate with the wrong pollen. Then we go to the father variety and cut off these filaments here. We dry them in the sun, with or without light—there are different teachings on that—until the pollen comes off when you shake it a bit. And when the right moment comes, we go to the blossom that the mother variety has opened, and pollinate with the father pollen using a brush. After that, there are apples. We take out the apple seeds. Then the seeds get stratified, meaning you break the hibernation. And then we sow them and get seedlings.

In our apple breeding program, we produce around 15,000–25,000 seedlings a year. They are tested with scab when they have two, three leaves, and those that get it are thrown out immediately. Only the resistant ones survive. We let them grow in a pot for a year. At that point, we do a slight selection for mildew and for specific types of growth. If our goal is a column tree, we will exclude all that the ones that don’t have the column characteristic. If we’re aiming for red-flesh apples—and we have the genotypes like the Redloves,® where red flesh already shows in the redness of the shoots—then we will throw out all those that are not red. That way we can reduce the numbers, and after another year, we cut the tip of this sapling and graft it onto a low-growing rootstock to create a tree. We plant this tree into the test orchard in Buchs, and then I walk around on Sundays and in the evenings, whenever I find the time, and eat apples from mid-July until mid-October. Every year I eat, maybe three-, four, five thousand apples. By “eat” I mean one bite, one decision.

Antje: How many varieties do you have altogether? Apple varieties?

Markus Kobelt: Oh, I don’t really know. Over the past twenty years I’ve put out more than a hundred varieties for home gardens, all included, not only apples … we have two miniature apple varieties. We have four Redloves® … that makes six. Well, and I think we have five column trees. That’s eleven. On top of that, we have more than ten Paradise® apples. That’s more than twenty different varieties we put out over the past twenty years, and productivity is on the rise of course. When you’ve started your breeding program twenty-three years ago, you start to get into a flow after about twelve years. That’s when the first varieties come out, and now we’re getting more and more, better and better ones.

Antje: These few thousand trees you have on your field, essentially they are varieties as well, just without a name given to them by someone. Could you describe the moment when you say, “This is a new variety now?”

Markus Kobelt: There are two options: the first one is that you walk through specific hybridizations and try to filter out the best one. That’s hard work. You have to keep certain criteria in your mind, and then you go out and say, “Yes, I want to filter out the best 10%.” And then I enter the second step in testing, maybe the third, and maybe a variety emerges from that. But then there’s also this magic moment when you know for a fact that of these twenty, it’s exactly this one.

That’s also what you have. You walk through your rows of seedlings, through thousands of them, and you see one apple and you somehow know: Eureka! This will be a variety! Whenever that’s the case, it’s almost always something particularly good. And if you go back to your original notes later, the ones you wrote the first time around when you did the first bite, they are correct. It’s like winetasting. If you can put the first impression into words, it’s always the best.

About twelve, thirteen years ago, my cousin and I—he’s a psychiatrist and wanted to do something proper, something down-to-earth—were walking through the apples one afternoon, and picked two apples. I can still recall this afternoon, the apples—+both of them became varieties. This moment does exist.

Luther Burbank[41] was an American breeder at the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century. He was the most productive breeder ever. It’s said that he put out 500 varieties. That’s really crazy. Around the turn of the century, the scientific breeders smirked at him and criticized him because they said that he wasn’t scientific. He also always talked about this mystic moment in breeding. I think he was right! None of his successors has been as productive as he was. Basically he brought together the knowledge he had—a little of Darwin, some other things, though he never fully noticed Mendel—with high intuition, and that is always way better than science, I think.


Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), German Federal Research Center for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit Crops, Dresden-Pillnitz, Germany

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: The systematic breeding of fruit is a 20th century invention. At the beginning of the 20th century, with the rediscovery of Gregor Mendel’s laws of heredity and the discovery of the gene as the smallest unit of a trait carrier, people began to purposefully recombine the properties between the parents by hybridizing them and then selecting those descendants that carried the desired characteristics. One of the pioneers of systematic plant breeding was Erwin Baur[42] in Müncheberg, close to Berlin. Strategic breeding for scab and frost resistance started as early as the 1920s.

Antje: Dresden-Pillnitz is renowned for the successes in breeding that took place here, the Pinova for example …[43]

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Yes, we have two breeding lines for apple varieties in Pillnitz. On the one side we have the quality fruit range, all the varieties starting with “Pi”—Pinova, Pivita, Pisaxa, Pirella—so you can immediately see that this variety comes from Dresden-Pillnitz. And then we have a program that breeds for resistance. Those varieties all start with “Re”: Regia, Rewena, Releika … The problem in breeding is simply that many resistance traits are not part of the pool of cultivars. Hence we have to cross in wild varieties. Once you have a look at a wild apple variety, you’ll notice that they have very small fruit sizes. The fruit might be as small as the fingernail on your pinky finger, or maybe your thumb. When you use this as your breeding partner, your descendants will bear equally small fruit. That means that you won’t breed another variety with fruit you can successfully market that soon. That’s why we have a “Pi”-line where we breed for quality, so we can put varieties on the market now, and the resistance breeding line where we try to develop resistances and trim the breeding material so that some day, these will yield large fruit with a quality similar to those from the “Pi”-line.


Nursery and test orchard at Lubera, Bad Zwischenahn, Germany

Antje: With the Lubera varieties, the ones I noticed most are the Redlove® because they are something very special that other breeders don’t have.

Markus Kobelt: This has to do with our focus on the home garden market. In the first round, we primarily breed for the hobby gardener. The hobby gardener’s needs are totally different from those of the commercial farmer. He wants to have something that is resistant. That’s why we’ve bred at least one resistance into each of our varieties, including the Redloves®. A hobby gardener wants something that is easy to cultivate, that doesn’t grow overmuch, doesn’t alternate, and bears fruit after two or three years. He wants something that tastes good. And the fourth criterion is that he may want something different, okay? Something that isn’t the same as what his neighbor has. So I got the idea of breeding red-flesh apples. Following the same idea, we’re also breeding seedless apples. In nature, apples with red flesh are part of the library of the old and the wild varieties: usually inedible, very tart, very bitter. So we tested which ones would be best for breeding; we’ve bred dessert apples over two generations—in some cases we even have the third, fourth, fifth generations. We bred these apples that taste nice, are easy to cultivate, resistant to scab, and are simply different. They have red blossoms, red sprouts, red flesh, and essentially a completely different usage profile from the apple. Actually, we should be talking about a different fruit species.

Antje: But genetically speaking, they are apples. How big of a role does the wild apple play in that?

Markus Kobelt: Not more, I’d say, or not much more than in other dessert apple varieties, because of course with repeated crossbreeding, the percentage of wild apple has been reduced more and more. But it did introduce some new taste qualities. The red color and some accompanying polyphenols result in a more tart and bitter apple. Of course, that’s a different taste profile. Just as nobody would want red wines to taste the same as white wines, I also say that a Redlove® shouldn’t taste the same as a Golden, but rather have a different profile. In the end, it’s the taste profile that’s much more interesting, exciting and complex than the apple. As a breeder, I know that, objectively speaking, you cannot eat Redloves® like apples yet, especially texture-wise. You could also say that somewhat less good. But when I’ve worked with the Redloves® for half a day and then go back to the normal apples, I think they’re boring. The Redloves® are just more interesting.

Antje: Can you name some wild varieties that have red flesh?

Markus Kobelt: There are decorative apples—a lot of hanging, decorative apples—that have red flesh. There’s also a cider apple in Germany that hasn’t been around for that long with red flesh; there’s a lot of material out there. We hybridized with a variety called Geneva. We’re constantly looking for new sources, to see if there might be a different genetic composition that could be interesting. We’ve now hybridized with several varieties from a botanical garden in order to see if they might contribute a little more than what we’ve already got. I’m a little skeptical, though. We’ve been making pretty good progress with the breeding lines we have. But in the end, it’s up to the breeder to decide, “Do I want something that’s exactly like Gala or Elstar, that only happens to be red? Or do I want to try and breed something new and more complex?” It’s the genetic technology that provides the possibilities, but there’s that creative moment of breeding and selecting, when you say, “I want this now, but not that.”


Department of Gene Resources and Nurseries, Research Institute of Pomology and Floriculture, Skierniewice, Poland

Grzegorz Hodun: We are standing in the Institute of Pomology’s experimental orchard. The experimental facility in Dąbrowice conducts all kinds of research and serves to protect genetic resources in its variety collection. The research includes varieties, diseases, agro-technical methods—practically every area imaginable. Agro-technical methods include various pruning techniques and all diseases. We also conduct research to determine, for example, which rootstocks are best suited to specific varieties. I started an experiment last year on seventy varieties that are scab resistant when growing outdoors, but I have to check and find out whether this depends on the location they are growing in, or whether these varieties do in fact possess genes that make them resistant. We are currently carrying out genetic research on this. The institute also has a department for breeding that is specialized in breeding new varieties. One of the priorities is to breed varieties that are less susceptible or completely resistant to disease by crossing varieties, breeding them traditionally, so that they have genes for scab resistance and can produce offspring that will also be immune to or very resistant to scab.


Bio-Hof Bölingen organic farm, Graftschaft, Germany

Bert Krämer: I’m from the Bio-Hof Bölingen organic farm in Grafschaft, which is located in the southern Rhineland on the border between North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. We’ve had this organic fruit farm for twenty-nine years now, with twenty-five varieties that we market and about seven varieties that we are currently testing. We have very old varieties like the Pineapple Renetta, which is about 400 years old, and we test varieties before they appear on the market for the first time. Breeders give their varieties to us for testing, four years. They want to know how this tree fares in organic farming and which fruit characteristics it has … for example, an apple may be very nice in color with a smooth skin, but it can also get more rust, a rougher skin, due to the agents we use in organic farming, and that is not always wanted. And of course we test both the taste and the yield potential. Whether the variety is tasty, nice looking, or holds up in storage, whether it is a success with the consumers—all that is usually tested over the next fifteen years. In general, about fifteen to twenty years pass before an apple reaches the market and people hear its name for the first time.

Ultimately, you want to strengthen specific things in breeding, and particular elements were not monitored or left out because it is impossible to take everything into account. You have to focus on specific core points, and during the past 50 years those have certainly been looks, storage capacity and taste, but not the ingredients in the apple. By crossing in the Golden Delicious—the Golden Delicious is included in some mother-father-position for 80% of our current apple varieties—we have created genetic uniformity. The French state took genetic material from the Caucasus and tried to integrate it into a new breed. There is a new variety on the market already and they thought it was resistant against certain things, but after five years they had to realize that the resistance was already broken. It’s not that easy to re-implant specific properties into an apple with a few years of breeding. For example, I have a Topaz here. This apple used to be resistant against scab until two years ago. But the resistance was broken in many regions of the Netherlands and Germany, too, so we can’t really speak of a resistance anymore because all fungi can adapt very quickly to these kinds of single resistances.


Warsaw University of Life Sciences SGGW, Department of Pomology, Warsaw, Poland

Antje: Golden Delicious, Gala, Jonagold, Granny Smith, Pink Lady—all these are apples that only exist in a symbiosis with chemicals. What is your opinion on this?

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: People want to have fruit. And of course we can produce them in an organic way, but these kinds of apples will always be more expensive, not for everybody. But everybody wants to eat fruit. It means we have two directions in production. Until now, many varieties were used mainly for industrial production, and of course they are very productive, very attractive and very tasty. But they need chemicals. And we don’t want to give these chemicals to the human organism—it’s very dangerous. In the case of the McIntosh, we had to spray after every rain! And these kinds of apples, chemical apples—I don’t believe there are no chemicals in them when you spray them that often … and besides, it’s not good for the environment. If we want to protect the environment, we have to avoid using too many chemicals, or use special chemicals. We should use fewer chemicals by creating new varieties. Time and again, creating new varieties with less susceptibility to diseases. But the diseases also evolve and break the resistance. And this is the problem. That’s why breeding is a never-ending job. We use many wild species when we work with apples, when we want to introduce resistances to very important diseases like scab for example. Malus atrosanguinea, Malus baccata[44]… But very often, we also take old varieties for our breeding programs, historical varieties. Such historical varieties are very important. Do you know why? Because they were cultivated hundred years ago and more. Back in those days, there were no chemicals for spraying. And the kind of varieties we have! Take Yellow Transparent, for example. It’s resistant to frost, more or less resistant to scab, resistant to powdery mildew. Or Antonówka. Kosztela, too—that one tastes really good and is a typical Polish variety.

Places like Kazakhstan and the other Republics around it, which have a population of Malus sieversii, are very interesting for breeders. When there are millions of trees, you can always choose the one that has top characteristics. In the past it was normal—in the Caucasus, for example—for people chose the best trees from entire forests of fruit trees and bring them to their gardens.

Antje: In a way, the wild forests are a gigantic laboratory, like your laboratory—where it just naturally happens that millions of different individuals…

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: … create many combinations, because they are heterozygous, which means they have a mother and a father. By crossing them, the characteristics are mixed, and you get a big range of everything. The same species, but so many characteristics that you can choose the best one. We have that with the scab resistance in the Malus floribunda.[45]

Antje: If you draw an analogy between human beings and apples, you could imagine that a whole city would be the same as a forest, with all these different people that all have sex and make children, and have parents. And an industrial apple plantation would be a city full of identical clones. A thousand times the same person, made to live as many specimens, sometimes for many centuries. So if, for example, there is a scab outbreak, then the genes of these clones that might have been resistant before have no chance of evolving like those of sexually-conceived children would, because the latter always have new combinations and sometimes mutations … So saving these forests is very important. It would mean that you have at least one city where the citizens can have sex with whomever they want, and have children by chance; some of them might be very intelligent, some of them strong, but most of them just average … what we want for human beings, too: the possibility to be different. Even now, we still have all these laws against breeding humans. I think it is right that you cannot choose what kind of child you want.[46]

Kamil Jeziorek: If you have a red father and a red mother, you will never have a yellow or green child. If you want a new variety with green skin, you cannot take Gala and Ligol. That’s not a choice. But when you try to find new varieties, you have new possibilities. Every new variety is a new gene bank. Like in a forest.

Antje: But just to speculate … while humans are mixing more and more all over the world, and we have a lot of different combinations of skin colors etc., there are fewer and fewer apple varieties. In China, I find the same Royal Gala, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, and so forth. You only have ten to fifteen different apples varieties in the whole world that are globally successful. A strange coincidence.


Lubera nursery and breeding program, Bad Zwischenahn, Germany

Antje: Erwin Baur, the “doyen of German plant breeding,” was active with the Nazis. In the beginning of scientific plant breeding, there was also the idea of breeding humans, which led to horrible things. I have the impression that with plant breeding, what they plant in these monocultures of so few varieties worldwide—if you were to transfer this to humans, it would make your head spin. That’s why I think it’s so important that there is a diversity of very many apple varieties, and options for the plant to express itself.

Markus Kobelt: Historically, due to Darwin, and in part also due to a misunderstanding of Darwin, they felt like everything was doable at the beginning of the 20th century. And so they went wild, I believe. Not everyone who had such weird ideas was a bad person. But they did have some very strange ideas indeed.


  1. Can genetic engineering solve the problems faced by apple farmers?

Warsaw University of Life Sciences SGGW, Department of Pomology, Warsaw, Poland

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: Today, we are conducting our research with the help of bio-technology. We are researching how to introduce specific genes.[47] Right now, in my laboratory, we are looking for molecular markers that show which genes are responsible for which characteristic. For instance: we are looking for the genes responsible for resistance to the Erwinia amylovora,[48] the fire blight pathogen. We found such a gene, and in the next step, we can do the transformation.

The demands also develop. For instance, we are currently looking for apples that have red flesh. Because flavonoids help against cancer etc, we know that such substances are very important for our health. Next, we are looking into apples for people who suffer allergies. A lot of people in Europe are allergic to birch, and the allergens of birch and apples are almost identical. Anyone with a birch allergy will almost certainly develop an apple allergy as well. Golden Delicious and Pinova are on the top of the list of apples that cause allergies.

Antje: And does anyone think about introducing genes from other plants into apples?

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: Hmmm … that would be a problem, because it is illegal. (Laughs) Cultivation of these kinds of new creations…

Antje: In Polish law?

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: All over Europe. But there is another method now. We can introduce genes from parents that can be cross-bred with one another. This means that we use genes from one variety, from one species of apple, and transfer it to the other apple variety. That way, we are still working with apples the whole time.

Antje: And is this already happening in other countries?

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: Yes, in the Netherlands for instance … [49]

Antje: But if you just transfer genes from one apple to another, you could also do it the natural way …

Prof. Andrzej Przybyła: Yes, you can! But you have to wait for many, many years! When you carry out such a transformation, you get your results after one, two years.


Lubera nursery and breeding program, Bad Zwischenahn, Germany

Antje: What is more important to you in classical breeding work: the wild apples or the old varieties? How do you proceed?

Markus Kobelt: … it varies. Whatever I need at the moment. I would also like to mention that a lifespan is seventy, eighty, ninety years; a breeding generation takes ten; a variety may take twelve to eighteen, twenty years… you have to set targets for yourself. This means that we almost never work directly with wild apples. I like to take that picture of the dwarf on the shoulders of the giant. Our predecessors who have been breeding, our colleagues, too, who breed and do such fundamental work, those are the giants, and I’m the dwarf who sits on their shoulders. Yet I do see a little further. And I’m using what they took. If I were to get down all the way and start from scratch, it simply wouldn’t be efficient. It’s superb—by the way, that’s the work I see for the research institutes—when wild apples are hybridized again, but as a private individual, I simply cannot finance this kind of work. So I pick up an American variety for seedless apples here and a cider apple variety for red flesh or whatever there, and try to achieve new results.

Antje: Your apples have different resistances that you cross in. Which ones in particular?

Markus Kobelt: First, as a basis, we try to introduce a simple Vf scab resistance—but in choosing the parents, we try to hybridize polygenic sources of resistances as well. For example, there are early varieties like our Julka and Katka, a breeding line that stems from the Discovery, from English and American varieties with a polygenic resistance to scab. This we try to crossbreed and combine as well. Then we reduce plant protection to a minimum in the breeding facility during the first seven or eight years, and don’t spray them at all for the first ten years. But then we had secondary fungal diseases like black spot disease, for example, which turned all the apples brown. So that didn’t work. These days, we do around one to three plant protection sessions on this facility. After all, it is a monoculture. There are 20.000 to 30,000 apple trees. We don’t do any more, though. This means, just by looks even, that you don’t select a sick tree. That’s a good selection criterion. It’s very difficult to screen for mildew, and yet we try to not select very susceptible varieties. There is no early warning sign with mildew. The mildew on juvenile plants is not the same as what you see on adult plants. That’s why it is difficult to tell early on. We’ve also been working intensively on fire blight over the past six years.

Antje: It only become so dangerous over the past twenty years …

Markus Kobelt: Yes, well, it was imported. Whenever a disease spreads into a different cultivation area, and arrives in a new area of cultures, it just contaminates everything at first. That’s the price we have to pay for globalization, I think, but we can pay it happily. You can’t have the one without the other; you’ve got to live with it.


Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), German Federal Research Center for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit Crops, Dresden-Pillnitz, Germany

Antje: If a commercial fruit farmer in Poland wants to survive at all, he has to reduce the amount of labor he invests, all these many weekly sprayings with whatever agent. This is basically only doable with resistances …

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Yes, we know from our classic breeding program that one resistance gene against scab is sufficient to reduce the applications against scab to one or two in many parts of Germany. We’ve managed to reduce from seventeen plant protection treatments to two. That means that we can achieve quite a lot with just one gene. Even in areas where this resistance is broken and there are scab races that can infect the variety anyways, one or two fungicide treatments per year is enough. That shows the potential in plant breeding—no matter whether we’re talking about cisgenics or classic procedures. With the classic procedures, we can achieve the same as with genetic engineering, only we’ll need many decades to combine different resistances. With the help of genetic engineering, we can combine many resistances in a far shorter amount of time in order to develop such varieties. That is possible, technically.

This is a room for in-vitro cultures. We keep various apple varieties, apple genotypes in in-vitro cultures. Those are cultures of shoots that grew on an artificial nutrient medium—they are only the sprout with leaves but no roots; they can be cultivated for quite a long time. That enables us to conduct experiments on a small scale or to grow material for greenhouse experiments, like when we inocculate them with different pathogens for different diseases, for example. We have a range of fungal diseases in apple farming: scab is a fungus, mildew is a fungus. More and more, you see foliage diseases—Marssonina coronaria is a fungus that has been giving farmers trouble in the Lake Constance region and in organic farming. We also conduct experiments to characterize the function of single genes. Why is one variety resilient while another isn’t? We are deliberately searching for genes that are responsible for the expression of this resistance. We then try to describe this resistance gene more precisely by transferring these genes into susceptible varieties in order to study whether this variety really becomes resistant by doing so. Are there any incalculable effects on substances, on allergens; are there any side effects?

Here we have Pinova, a Pillnitz variety. It was given variety protection in the 1980s and is now one of the leading varieties on the market. With Pinova, we conduct a lot of studies with regard to blossom biology. Pinova has the advantage of regular fruit production—you can easily produce high-quality fruit in sufficient quantities every year, while the other varieties tend to have alternating yields. We are interested in finding out why are there varieties that are more prone to alternate, and why are those mainly the old varieties? Of course, it is something that a fruit farmer has no use for today. One year he has to pick fruits off the tree to raise the quality of the rest of the yield, and the next year he has a tree with no fruit at all. He would love to have a balanced number of fruit on the tree to produce the desired level of quality every year. Pressure on the market is so high these days that a modern variety has to have a characteristic like that.

We also have so called race tests here. With different fungi, you have different races. With the scab, for example. And if we have varieties out on the test field that are of course infected by the spectrum of races existing in Pillnitz, it can happen that a variety is infected here in Pillnitz that would not be infected elsewhere because we have different races of this pathogen here. Or else the variety doesn’t show any infection here and everyone else in Germany says, “That variety is highly susceptible.” So it’s important for us to know which races we have here in Pillnitz. And then we take specific varieties that naturally carry very specific resistance genes. We know that this variety is only infected by, say, race 147 but not by races 3 and 4. Using a whole range of these kinds of race testers, we can gather information on the range of pathogen races we have here in Pillnitz. That helps us determine what our varieties are resistant against.

Antje: How many different mildew races are there?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: There aren’t any races described for mildew, but we know that there are isolates, where people collected infected leaves from different regions and isolated the mildew from them. These different isolates react differently to different genotypes, which is more or less equivalent to the term “race.” But the races were never clearly defined like the scab races were. By now, we know more than fifteen races of scab that have been described internationally. In addition, mildew is an obligatory biotroph. That means that you can’t incubate it on an agar plate; you always have to cultivate it on a plant. And that is rather difficult because you would need to keep the mildew on different trees and take care that they don’t mix. We once had that in in-vitro experiments years ago—that’s a lot of work and you run a high risk of contamination. It’s different with the scab fungus; you can cultivate it very well on an artificial culture medium. You can keep different races on different Petri dishes, so you can experiment with them a lot better. Maybe that is the reason there are so many more people researching scab resistance than mildew, just because mildew is more hassle. That’s the downside of obligatory biotrophes.

Antje: Do they get any air at all in those glass jars?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: They have a microclimate. They do everything themselves—the gas exchange, etc. There is certainly some air exchange with the outside when you open the jars, but the aim is to keep that as low as possible and to establish that microclimate so there is not much condensation. That’s why we have to take care that the plants are not too small or too big, but that they are able to regulate the climate in the jars themselves. We have isolated genes from different apple varieties that we think might be scab resistance genes. Resistance genes always have a similar structure. So there are sequence motifs within the gene which are well preserved, meaning they are almost identical in many genes of one genetic family, and if these motifs are present then we can already predict something about the role of the gene. This is a gene that is responsible for development, for how the blossom grows in the flowering, for example. Or this is a gene that will predominantly play a role in the development of the fruit. Or this is a gene that has some part in the defense. That is what you’d call “resistance gene analogues.” We’ve found analogues that are very similar to a known scab resistance gene, the HcrVf2 gene from the Malus floribunda. And now we want to test whether the resistance gene analogues are real resistance genes. Do they work against other races as well? Or did they lose their function at that point of evolution when they accumulated little differences to this resistance gene in their sequence, and remain as a kind of evolutionary garbage in the genome now? For this purpose, we isolated these resistance genes and transferred them to susceptible apple varieties—usually to the Pinova and the Gala varieties, which are very good to handle and propagate in in-vitro cultures—and then we propagate them and place them into our greenhouse here. Then we test with different races of scab, whether they have acquired a resistance or not in the process. A variety is not necessarily resistant against all races. More likely the resistance only works against one part of the race spectrum and other varieties are only resistant to a different part of the race spectrum. That indicates that they must have a different resistance gene. Or the resistance gene has to work differently.

The high art in breeding would be to combine different resistance genes in a way that the varieties—which then have several of these resistance genes—should be resistant to all races. We call that “pyramidizing.” However, in order to be able to pyramidize intelligently, we have to first know which resistance gene works against which races. That would be one of the experiments we do here … we transfer resistance genes into the same variety and then test against different races. That way, we can tell that this resistance gene works against race 1 to x, that resistance gene works against 2 to y, and if we combine the two, we manage to cover a very broad range of races.

Antje: What do these little stickers with the numbers mean?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: They tell us which genotype it is. When we do these experiments with transferring genes, we create single plants, and each plant is a separate individual, a separate genotype. To keep it simple, we mark them with numbers.

Antje: But there are twenty in each jar … are those twenty different individuals?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: These individuals are propagated again vegetatively by cutting the sapling into small pieces. When you replant them, new sprouts grow from the axillary buds, allowing you to clone them in-vitro in a way that is very similar to what is done outdoors. Well, the advantage of in-vitro culture is that we can create a lot of material from very little in a relatively short time, multiply it, and make it genetically identical. These here are different accessions of different wild varieties; they are selected genotypes that have various characteristics such as a resistance to fire blight. Among them a Malus baccata, and I’ve seen a Malus prunifolia and a Malus robusta persicifolia.

Antje: Prof. Przybyla mentioned that there is currently a lot of research on apples with red flesh, e.g. the Malus atrosanguinea, because the flavonoids in them have health promoting characteristics. Do you do things like that as well?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Yes, we do. We characterize our gene bank, which we have out there, according to the characteristics they express … We have almost a thousand varieties on this field here, and about as many wild accessions. It ranges from the shape of the fruit, firmness, size, and taste, to the time of blossom, the regularity of the blossom. There are many characteristics that we evaluate with these plants throughout the year, and from all this plant material, we then select those of which we can say, “These have the characteristics and the others don’t! This will be useful in a new variety.” That also includes fruit characteristics. There is a great trend towards red flesh at the moment—and the red flesh often comes with a very bad shelf life. These fruit are quick to go brown in storage, which makes them difficult to market. They also have an astringent taste, which is something the consumer doesn’t want. We are interested finding out whether this gene for red flesh is also responsible for the browning in storage. They identified this gene in New Zealand a few years ago.[50] Now we have this gene here as well and, and are analyzing whether the gene leads to the fruit turning brown so soon, and maybe also to these negative taste characteristics. I might be able to improve the taste in nuances, but I will never be able to breed a red-flesh variety with a top-notch taste. The ability to calculate that early on is an advantage of modern breed research because we don’t have to wait through fifty, sixty, a hundred years of experiments to find out. Instead, we can deliberately select genes and study their role, and once we understand the role we can predict whether it makes sense to breed for this characteristic, or is it a dead end where we’ll have to admit that, although we improved one characteristic, we got so many negative ones along with it that we’ve ended up with potential varieties that don’t really stand a chance on the market. The basic problem for an apple breeder is that he tries to combine so many different characteristics in one plant. He has to create a lot of plants before he can get lucky, and find one among them that carries all the desired characteristics. Think of it like this: if you only look at one characteristic and pass it on, half of the descendants will get it, and that is 50% of the plants. If you look at two characteristics, it’s down to a quarter.

Antje: But that is only valid for dominant genes?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Yes. With recessive genes it’s less, accordingly. And the more characteristics you look at, the fewer plants you will have in the end that carry all the desired ones. Normally, you’ll need to produce many thousands of plants in order to find the one that really has a chance of turning into a new variety. That’s why the aim of breeders has always been to develop methods that would allow them to find the one among them as quickly as possible. In earlier times, they tried to create visual means. For example: is the characteristic, that I may only see in the fruit, passed on along with another one, like a specific hairiness of the leaves, a leaf color, or something else, that I can see quite soon after sowing the plant? We call these morphological markers. So I go to a sowing tray like this, I have several thousand plants and I can see quickly: “Aha, the ones the red leaves will also have red flesh later on.” Of course, this only works if I have morphologic characteristics like that. But they don’t exist for all traits, in fact they only exist for very few. So we make use of the fact that DNA patterns are passed on by the same hereditary processes. We can isolate these DNA patterns from the first developing leaf and analyze whether there is a pattern that is passed on along with the characteristic we’re interested in. We call these molecular markers. As a basic principle, the characteristics are all located on the chromosome in meiosis—the stage where the cells divide. When you imagine the chromosome as a kind of walking stick, you can have the following situation: you have two characteristics. The one is on one end of the chromosome and the other on the opposite end. During cell division, the chromosome can break. If those two characteristics are far apart, they are separated with every cell division during the development of the sex cells, the mitosis. The closer the characteristics are together, the less likely it is that the break happens between them. So we’re looking for DNA patterns whose location on the chromosome is as close as possible to the characteristic we’re interested in , and for that we’re creating genetic maps. With a map like this, we register the characteristics, the DNA patterns. We watch many of those DNA patterns, create a large generation from a cross between two parents. The one parent has a specific DNA pattern, the other has another pattern. We then study all the offspring (sometimes up to 3,000 descendants) and check which one of them inherited which DNA pattern from which parent. If we calculate it statistically, we can see that there some patterns frequently passed on together, while others are never passed on together. The more often they are passed on together, the closer together they have to be on that walking stick. If you look at a lot of those characteristics, you get their order on the chromosome. You finish when you have only as many groups as the cell has chromosomes. That’s how we can find out: a) how the apple’s chromosomes are structured and b) which characteristics are on which chromosome, and where they are on which one. And then you can make use of these DNA patterns, the molecular markers, and analyze the parents.

Antje: My father worked in the field of human genetics,[51] so I know a little about this. Not in plants but in humans—he worked on birth malformations. When a child has six fingers instead of five, that would be a characteristic. The child can have six fingers and at the same time have a heart malformation that is not immediately apparent. The heart malformation would be the characteristic you’re looking for—and the six fingers could be seen as a morphological marker, couldn’t they?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Exactly, you could say then that all children who have six fingers also have a heart malformation. That would only be the case though if the six fingers—the characteristic—were very close to the heart malformation on the chromosome.

Antje: If you say, for example, the red fruit tastes sour—the two characteristics lie close together?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Exactly. That’s what we discovered through this kind of genetic mapping. However, we have not yet been able to determine whether this one gene for red flesh is also responsible for the astringent taste. We only know that this gene is located on a chromosome, and somewhere very close by there must be a second gene responsible for the astringent taste and the difficulties with storage, okay? If these are different genes, then we would have the chance to produce many offspring until one day we find one where the break has happened just between the two. That requires examining several thousand descendants, though. If it is caused by the same gene, then the red flesh ones will always show low storage capacity and always taste astringent.

Antje: And if you were to say, “A child can manage with six fingers, but it shouldn’t have a heart malformation” …

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Quite so.

Antje: …because with the heart malformation it will die at age six, but having six fingers is actually not that bad. If you try to imagine that, yes, you could separate the two, if you wanted to…

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Yes, right …but I think that is an ethical debate. (Laughs)

Basically, what you see here are two alleles of a gene. The one variety has one gene, gene 1a, and the other variety has the other, gene 1b. We know that variety 1 expresses a specific characteristic that variety 2 does not, and that this characteristic is caused by this gene. Now we want to know why. To find out, we compare the DNA sequences of this gene, or of the two alleles of the gene, and see that the greater part of them is identical. However, there are differences in two places: exactly here … and here. Whenever we find places like that, and find out that such a place is relevant for the expression of a particular characteristic, we can deliberately search for descendants who have exactly this pattern in this place. If this pattern is there, then we know the plant will express this characteristic later on when it has grown.[52]

Antje: So this would be adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine here…

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Exactly, that’s the base sequence …

Antje: What is “R”?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: It always says “R” if the machine cannot distinguish between two variations while doing the DNA sequencing. You introduce a so-called “wobble.” There is a letter code for wobbles, and with the Rs you can see exactly which two bases could exist in this position. But here, for example, we have a G to T exchange. We know exactly what the exchange was. And then we can say: okay, if there is a T in this position, the characteristic is not expressed, and if there is a G, it is. Then we select for descendants who have that DNA pattern.

Antje: Is it possible to cut out exactly the desired G and insert it somewhere else?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Such methods do exist today. They are established with other plants. Our fruit trees are more difficult to change than herbaceous plants, for example; it’s still less established. But I think it will be possible in a few years’ time.

Antje: That would be the quickest version then …

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: A kind of genetic therapy.

Antje: … to only exchange one gene, actually just one base, deliberately exchanged, and there you go! Then it works, it has a resistance …

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Exactly. It’s already possible today with corn and many other model plants.[53]

Antje: They’re doing it already …[54]

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Yes, they are doing it, exactly. Another branch of these genetic engineering procedures is the so-called cisgenics. In cisgenics, the genes—say of wild apple varieties, for example—are isolated and transferred into the cultivar in one step. Normally you would do this by crossbreeding; you would need to cross the wild apple with the cultivated variety, harvest the fruit of the next generation, sow the seed … and because the fruit would still be rather small, you’d need to do another cross with a cultivated variety. We expect [to wait] at least thirty to fifty years when transferring resistance genes from a wild variety to a cultivated one. In extreme cases, it can take up to a hundred. That is not the way breeding can react to problems. The world has become more fast-paced, and it becomes more and more more difficult to react to medium-term problems with a procedure like that. We have isolated scab resistance genes from wild varieties, helped isolate fire blight resistance genes, transferred them into the cultivated varieties … and now we’re studying how these genes function. How stable is the resistance given by these genes? Do these genes have any side effects—any substances the apples now produce that are not produced by other genotypes? We perform a kind of risk assessment. That is, let’s say, in an experimental stage.

Antje: Thinking of that poster we just looked at … would that be a procedure where you cut out the “R” or the “T,” and …

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: No, at the moment we transfer whole genes.[55]

Antje: Whole genes … so they can’t do it that precisely yet…?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Not with the apple, no.

Antje: But with corn?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: They can already do it with other plants. But even there, it is at an experimental stage. I think in five to ten years, it will be possible for breeding practice.

Antje: So the risk may be that you transfer the whole gene but you don’t know what else you have transferred along with it. Is that correct?

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: Well, I think we should end this discussion here because we would just get carried away. Just think about all the things people are afraid of! Humans are just afraid because they cannot imagine … they are not afraid to select mutants that suddenly show a different fruit color. But because it happens out there, it doesn’t scare him. It’s only when man interferes himself that he’s suddenly afraid. We haven’t found anything in our research that we do not also find in the natural apple. Mutants emerge because single genes mutate. A gene is destroyed or a new gene is created as the DNA structure changes in individual positions. We can see such things. We deliberately select branches from trees where we find fruit that are redder. So we can see that a change in the DNA has happened. The genome of the apple is full of retro-elements. Those are elements that can change their position, and they lead to these kinds of mutations.


Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany

Eckart Brandt: Mutants aren’t bred deliberately; they are nature at play. Suddenly you find a single, more reddish apple on a branch of a tree with yellow apples. And the next year, it comes back. If you then cut this branch for propagation then it is saved in the genes that this apple variety will be much more red, and then you have a red mutant of an already existing variety. Just as Jonagored is actually only a mutant version of Jonagold, there is a red mutant of Ingrid Marie called Karin Schneider; there is a Gravenstein and a Red Gravenstein; a Finkenwerder Herbstprinz and a Red Finkenwerder Herbstprinz; there is a Red James Grieve and who knows what else. In most cases, the red mutant varieties are merely more red but not necessarily more tasty. They often have specific downsides that are not at all exciting, but they are presumably countered by the fact that the apple has a fashionable, red color.


Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), German Federal Research Center for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Breeding Research on Horticultural and Fruit Crops, Dresden-Pillnitz, Germany

Dr. Henryk Flachowsky: There are the first genetically modified varieties in Canada now. The question is when we will get in touch with these products—once we have the free trade agreement with the US. I don’t know how all this will turn out. It is an interesting procedure for plant breeding at any rate, and it could help us get a grip on a lot of problems in the medium term.[56]


Boomgarden-Projekt, Altes Land, Germany

Antje: Where is the line beyond which I can say that someone is the creator of this apple?

Eckart Brandt: I don’t know if you can ever say that. As humans, we actually only play with the elements that nature provides. And if you cross a birch gene into an apple, as it has been done, are you then the creator of that weird apple sapling that bears fruit in its first year? Well, actually you’ve only tinkered with two different building blocks from nature that you’ve put together unnaturally.[57]

Antje: Actually it’s nature that creates all this diversity, but humans help. How do you view the relationship between nature and culture?

Eckart Brandt: Well, so far it’s still true that nature effectively has the upper hand. In the end, it still does whatever it wants. This might be broken by using genetic engineering—by very deliberately inserting a specific characteristic from one plant into another existing plant—which isn’t so easy to do because we don’t control the process to such a degree that we can say precisely, “This segment that we now want to transfer from plant A to plant B, should kindly dock exactly in this location and bring about this a result or another.” Things have backfired badly already and didn’t work at all.

Antje: Anyway, genetic engineering isn’t allowed here.

Eckart Brandt: No, but they have experimented enough with it, under lock and key, and have indeed created plants in the plant breeding institutes that weren’t intended, or permitted, to be released outdoors, because it’s still not allowed.


Nursery and test orchard at Lubera, Bad Zwischenahn, Germany

Markus Kobelt: I think we can list three options: today we differentiate between transgenics, where you bring two species together, for example when you take a gene from a fish and implant it into an apple. There is cisgenics, where we remain within the confines of the Malus, the apple. And the third method is to utilize methods of genetic engineering passively, by taking a leaf and analyzing it to say, “This one has this or that characteristic in it, this or the other resistance.”

We’re only using the third option here, and will also only use this third option in future. There are two reasons for this. The first is purely pragmatic, and not of an ideological nature: consumers do not accept it. I don’t have to act against my friends, do I? My customers are my friends. The second reason is that I believe that the market (in our case, first and foremost the hobby gardeners, but also apple consumers) don’t want variations of the same thing at the end of the day; they want a new product. And you only get this through the free recombination of genes, something that only happens with classic breeding: that genes from the male and female mix and so every child is different—only not just two or three, or 1.4 [children per woman] like in Germany, but umpteen thousands—and then we find the one among them that gives us progress in breeding. That is the only way to get new products. The other path only gives you Golden Delicious plus trait x—and that’s plain boring.

For six years, we collaborated intensively on a research project in Switzerland, ZUEFOS it was called.[58] That was the only time we received state funding for breeding—getting  €20,000, €30,000 to €40,000 per year—and we tried, in a conventional way, to find parents for breeding, find crossbreeds with resistances to fire blight. With fire blight, you have almost exclusively polygenic resistances. If you hybridize two polygenic resistant varieties that are not very susceptible, you might end up with about two, three, four percent that are also resistant again. In this project, we tried to find hybrid parents that are more productive. And we managed. We found two breeding lines where, by bringing together two parents, we stand a good chance of getting more than 50% resistant ones—so it was very successful. Sadly we didn’t get any more funds after that, because they’re now investing in genetic engineering.

Antje: This was a project with ETH Zürich?

Markus Kobelt: Yes, that’s right.

Antje: Right now, they are carrying out research in cooperation with the Julius Kühn-Institut on a genetically modified, fire blight resistant Gala that they are also planting outdoors in Wageningen. Do you know anything about that?

Markus Kobelt: There are monogenic resistances in some wild apples, based on one or very few genes … they’re not entirely sure about that, and those you can transfer. However, the colleagues are contradicting themselves a little with this. On the one hand, they’ve been preaching for thirty years that monogenic resistances are dangerous because they can easily be broken by pathogens. On the other hand, that is precisely what they are working with in genetic engineering. You cannot work with those polygenic resistances. Effectively, you have to do both. Of course you can get results quickly with monogenic resistances in classic breeding. In almost all of our varieties, there is a Vf scab resistance based on one gene—plus maybe some assisting genes, I think. That has been approved. But you have to work with polygenic resistances. For that, we have breeding parents. It’s very important to work with polygenic resistances when dealing with new diseases like fire blight. Since the preferred technique nowadays is genetic engineering, the investment is only going into monogenic resistances—a contradiction.

Antje: I have a question about those seedless apples. They tried that in Dresden-Pillnitz as well, as a reaction to the problems people had with transgenic apples. They thought, “Yes, brilliant, we’ll create seedless apples, so no-one can complain that they’ll start reproducing themselves uncontrollably.”[59]

Markus Kobelt: I didn’t know that … the pollen could still spread, though.

Antje: Yes. Why are you interested in seedless apples?

Markus Kobelt: I always consider the user behavior. In other words: What do the hobby gardeners, and moreover the apple eaters, need the apple for? Of course, there’s more “convenience food.” An apple as such is already the epitome of a “convenience food”: you just take it, maybe wash it a bit, and eat it. But you still have a problem, namely something’s always left that’s a little sticky, a core that gets left on your desk or stays behind in your car … by the way, in mine it’s always on the floor mat on the passenger side; and kids don’t know what to do with it either, so in the end there’s always a big chunk left that isn’t eaten up properly. You could eliminate that.

Antje: Are you saying that there are seedless wild apples?

Markus Kobelt: No, those aren’t wild apples. They are American varieties. The Wellington Bloomless and Spencer Seedless, for examplethere are several others that we used for hybridization, which have no petals.[60] That’s why no or only few insects fly to them, so there’s no pollination, and at the same time they have the ability to grow fruit in parthenocarpy.[61] In this case, we enforce this characteristic that already exists in a mild form. With those seedless things it’s a little more complicated, because it’s a recessive characteristic, which means that I have to work over two generations—two times ten, twelve, fifteen years—before getting my results. Something for my retirement years.

Antje: Does it also mean that these kinds of apple trees can basically only procreate through humans—through humans who propagate them vegetatively and graft them onto a new tree base?

Markus Kobelt: You could put it that way, even though there will always be single ones that receive pollen by accident, whether by an insect or airborne. If there are no petals, no blossoms, fewer insects will fly to them. And yet there are few apple varieties—cultivated varieties—that were simply propagated by nature.

Antje: What do you think about the Arctic Apple®?[62]

Markus Kobelt: It’s an apple that doesn’t oxidize, right? I think it might show best how a useful technique is used in a senseless way. It makes sense to know more about which characteristics are in a particular apple. That’s possible with marker-based breeding. I take a leaf, hand it in and get my results: you have a characteristic Vf scab resistance, you have a Va scab resistance, and possibly a polygenic one as well, and there is a good chance for a fire blight resistance, too. Then I know which one I can pair with it. It’s an additional tool that I may utilize and that is positive. Not crucial for success, but it’s good to have it.

However, I think that there is a self-reinforcing drive in the sciences about these genetic engineering methods. It’s just simple to do research in genetic engineering and transfer characteristics. You always get results, you just need to do it often enough. You can publish a paper, and then maybe become a professor or outside lecturer, or you get promoted, or you can write your dissertation—very convenient for professors and their students. That makes for a self-reinforcing drive. Doing agronomic research on the field is very difficult and tedious. It takes four, five, six years until you get results you can publish from a fruit plantation you experiment with, even if you don’t do breeding. I can select varieties that don’t or hardly oxidize—by the way, Redlove® oxidizes very little due to its acidity. But it’s not the characteristic the world has waited for. To impose something onto people that they actually don’t want—whether they’re justified in that or not, I’m not going to judge here—they very clearly don’t want genetically modified apples. That doesn’t make sense … it’s just stupid.

Antje: Well, essentially you’d think this can only have been an industry-driven desire to have the apples already cut, pre-sliced

Markus Kobelt: … pre-slicing. Yes, exactly.

Antje: … that can last in supermarkets for weeks.

Markus Kobelt: But you can also do that with citric acid. The apple industry, the apple supply chain, ranges from the producers and their organizations, meaning the apple farmer, to the distributing organizations or traders who buy, store, and sell the apples, and then there are sometimes intermediaries in between. After that come the chains that sell them. They are a little like steel traders; they can’t really market one product—they sell tons of apples. And they prefer to have the same thing with one additional characteristic, because they don’t have to do anything, they can just slap a sign on it that says: “Now better in this or that way,” and they don’t have to tell a new story. They prefer that. Agronomy, most of all the state research institutes that we all finance, deliver precisely the results these people want, even if the consumer doesn’t want them.

I have to somehow earn every euro, every franc that I invest in our breeding program. And I have to get it from our customers who buy the apple tree for their home garden from us. We also do a little licensing business in commercial farming, from people who plant the Redloves® and produce fruit with them. I have to end up with a product that has a clear USP[63]—as you say in marketing—something is clearly different, and that also tells a story. It’s easier to sell in the end. Research institutes don’t listen to the consumer because they don’t have anyone paying them. They listen to the industry. They listen to their superiors who want papers. They don’t produce apple varieties; that’s not their primary goal. Annual reports are much more important, aren’t they?

Antje: Do you have the impression that research institutes are really working on producing apples that no longer need plant protection?

Markus Kobelt: Yes, I really believe they are. By the way, the East was way ahead of us in that respect. When I travelled to Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, first to East Germany where I got to know my teachers in breeding—Christa and Manfred Fischer, who had done breeding in Dresden-Pillnitz—then on to Czech Republic, Poland and Russia, they were more advanced in breeding resistances than Western Europe was, especially in terms of scope and mass—because plant protection agents were too expensive or not accessible.

And of course, we’re feeling this pressure now as well. Everybody knows it; it’s the same institutions, meaning the state, that restrict them, so the regulation mechanism works in a way that encourages hybridizion in the direction of resistances. It’s just that I’ve learned something: resistance on its own doesn’t help. It’s an additional argument that makes production easier on the final stretch. In the end, the apple has to be better.

Antje: The breeding of apples has a long history in Europe, some hundred years. You said earlier that you feel like a dwarf on the shoulders of giants. Would you say that horticulture is also an art?

Markus Kobelt: Yes, well, designing horticulture certainly is an art, related to architecture. Yet I would go further to say that breeding essentially is an art.— Maybe I should qualify that statement. Twenty years ago, when I first started, I had quite a few apple varieties from a particular Czech breeder in my test facilities because I collected everything from everywhere. They were spread all over the place, over two hectares: one of his varieties here, another one there. And without a map, I could still tell which ones were his after two years because he had a specific style. Just as you would say an artist has a specific style, or a writer has a style. A specific style—that was my first clue. The other one is the artistic or magic moment—the moment when you see that this is a variety. When you make the decision. You only have a split second to do it, and you’re not really in control of that moment.

I used to have a friend who sadly is no more—a small-scale apple breeder from Switzerland, Peter Hauenstein. He died. He always had very small populations, but he always found something, always something very special. As to whether they became a global variety … none of them made it. One, the Rubinette, caught on a little as a specialty breed. He always found something because he knew exactly which ones, and because he could tell the story afterwards, and trusted in the variety. That’s why I’m certain that breeding is an art.

There was a discussion at the beginning of the 20th century between the emerging scientific breeders and this Luther Burbank. Last winter, I read a little about him and that clarified quite a few things for me. He was an artist who also didn’t understand that much and didn’t know enough about the sciences—a pity, it would have been better if he had known a little more—and there were the pure scientists. But he was productive! There are still ten varieties in use that he developed, and there is nothing left from the pure scientists.

Antje: Do you think the plant speaks to you?

Markus Kobelt: I wouldn’t put it that way, no. That’s unscientific. But this Luther Burbank said things like that.


  1. The freedom of apples

Food Cooperative Łódź / Kooperatywa Spożywcza w Łodzi, Łódź, Poland

Antje: What does biodiversity mean to you?

Martyna: I associate the issue of biodiversity with the Monsanto affair and monoculture farms, which kill bees and agriculture as a whole. Therefore, I believe that preserving biodiversity is important as it allows people to live in good health. Because you can never know what effects genetically modified crops may have, not only on nature but on humans as well.

Alicja: Currently, monocultures are becoming a dominant method of farming and the old varieties of plants and animals are being eradicated because they don’t produce the same kind of profits.


Binder International, Binder International, Smaki Tarczyna apple juice factory, Tarczyn, Poland

Robert Pierściński: Apple juice concentrate is also used as a base for making numerous other drinks, including nectars and mixes. During pasteurization, right after the juice is pressed, the dearomatization process removes the aroma from the juice. If the clients request it, it can be readded to the concentrate at a later stage. If it is used to make apple juice, the aroma is usually readded to make the apple taste more pronounced. However, if the concentrate is used as a base for other drinks, the aroma must be removed because it will be mixed with other juices, i.e. strawberry juice. The apple aroma would ruin the taste of the drink. In the case of apple concentrate, about 5% of our total production has the aroma readded, and 95% is sold to clients without the aroma.

Adam Miłoszewski: If you enter your local store and take a look at the ingredients that make up a bottle of raspberry juice, only 15% of it is pure raspberry juice; the rest is apple juice which forms the base, acting as filler. Many exotic fruit juices use apple juice as a base. Maybe juices to a lesser extent, but nectars, drinks, and syrups.

Aleksandra Jach: What is the aroma made up of, chemically?

Robert Pierściński: The aroma looks like water. It is a mixture of aldehydes, esters, alcohol, sugar and some other chemical compounds. It’s a simple, translucent liquid. The process of removing the aroma from the juice is done with a piece of equipment that uses different temperatures and pressure. It is a purely physical process, nothing is added from the outside.

Antje: Is it possible to make synthetic aromas that are chemically identical to natural aromas?

Robert Pierściński: From a chemical point of view, it is possible. Some juice manufacturers decide to do it this way. There are a number of EU and international regulations that only allow producers to include the word “juice” in the name of their products if it contains natural aromas.

Antje: Would it be possible to produce apple juice entirely in the laboratory?

Adam Miłoszewski: I do not know. Chemists are able to do many miracles, but I do not believe it would be financially viable to do so on a large scale.

Antje: The apples that you use for the apple juice have been selected during a long process of finding the right apples that can grow on an industrial scale and have the right taste. Could we think of these plantations as some sort of factories? The researchers and producers can control exactly which flavor your apples should have in order to produce apple juice. So you call them industrial apples, because this apple plantation industry that supplies your fruit works like a machine. There is not much difference; nature actually becomes your factory because it would be more expensive to produce apple juice chemically in a laboratory. Nature already has already the right workings to produce it…


Industrial apple farm, Michrow, Poland

Antje: Do you like your job? Do you enjoy working here?

Marian Orzeszek: If I didn’t like it I wouldn’t be here, I would emigrate somewhere else. Yes, I like it. I love the countryside. I cannot see myself living in a city.

Antje: And what do you like about this job?

Marian Orzeszek: Everything … when plants begin to grow, when birds sing. I love nature in general.

Marian Orzeszek’s son: It’s not so much about loving the countryside, but rather about hating the city. What choice do I have? If I can’t stand the city, the only solution is the countryside. That’s pretty much my choice. Farming, I mean the farming geared towards mass production, is nothing but industry. This is not nature, because we shape the apple trees according to your needs. You find true nature in those places that people have never entered. Look at the production of apple trees: when I was a child, a tree was planted and it grew just naturally, without human interference. Nobody knew about boosting yield. And today the tree grows as the farmer wishes. He wants it to grow crooked, and it grows crooked; he wants it to grow straight, and it grows straight. Practically 100% is human interference.

Marian Orzeszek: Just as my son said: it is nature, but created by man. Man created what he imagined, right? And nature simply creates itself. While everything here is created by man. Such was his vision. Shaped by man, to get a specific form. Wild nature is where there are mountains, wild plants. That is nature … Nature has been changed and tamed by humans, even in the mountains we interfere with nature, and nature begins to surrender to human desires.


Jimmie Durham’s studio, Berlin, Germany

Jimmie Durham: There are so many things that we could start doing immediately if we had a scientific way of looking. But our science is not very scientific. It’s very much based on old European craziness or old Chinese craziness…

Antje: So what would good science be like?

Jimmie Durham: Firstly, you would not need so many crops for cash, because that’s not scientific. If you are not growing crops for cash, you wouldn’t need to create seeds that cannot reproduce themselves. We say we don’t like genetically modified crops. That’s not the issue! The issue is, you sell some seeds to a farmer, and they are copyrighted, and they don’t reproduce themselves! So you are selling poison to the farmer! That’s the issue. It means he is not allowed to grow things for his community anymore.[64]

I think we have to find a way out of this constant, super idea of luxury that costs so much of the earth’s resources. We have a system built on the luxury of our life. And we ought to be very sensitive to ourselves about it. We’ve made this over thousands of years in genius and desperation at the same time. I love this life. I don’t want to go back and live under a tree, but it has to not be this way! So as much as I love this life, I would not have an automobile, and I would not have a horse. These two things are equally expensive and trouble, and not good for the environment.

There is this very capitalistic culture that has spread around the world. And it is capitalistic. No matter if it’s Russian, Chinese, or American; it’s basically the same, and it’s about this very stupid idea of progress, a very stupid idea of science, everything. And if we embrace that on its terms, on terms of power, then we are being sold something that is not good for us. If we develop something, it can be better. And that’s certainly what we have always done. It is a tradition. It’s our best tradition. When we Cherokees moved to Mexico from what used to be Siberia, it took a few thousand years, and in those few thousand years we changed everything. We settled in Mexico. And then it turned out not to be so good, and we went up to Ohio. A whole lot of changes happening, so where is the tradition there? The tradition is change. And still, of course the tradition is having a little bit of common sense wherever possible. Don’t kill everything; don’t destroy everything.

Antje: How about ownership?

Jimmie Durham: You cannot say in Cherokee that you “own” any land. The land is the land. And what we say in Cherokee is that the land is the world. The world is the world. And it’s going along. That’s what it is. That’s what we call going-alongness. That’s the world, here it is. Who could own it? Now, what you can own is something that you make. And not anything else. You can’t own another person, you can’t own a shirt, you can’t own shoes, you can’t own a house. If you make something—I mean, something small, something you can make and say: “Here, this is mine!” But you wouldn’t say that. You would say, “This, that I made—is for you,” maybe. We can see now that this whole business of ownership is not working for the entire world. It’s not working. And it’s not intellectually good for us. It makes us stupid. It makes us think about owning.


The wild apples Malus sieversii and Malus sylvestris were forest trees that existed for millions of years and are now in danger of extinction. Malus sieversii, which mainly occurs in Kazakhstan, can be up to several hundred years old, gain a stem circumference of up to 2 m and reach a height of up to 30 m—and produce the most diverse apples, including big and tasty ones. Our cultivated varieties, the Malus domesticus, developed from these over millenia. While Malus sieversii is protected in nature reserves, it is being pushed back by reforestation with alien tree species and its genome is contaminated by crossbreeding with cultivated apples. On top of that, climate change takes its toll. Scientists estimate that it will have disappeared completely within the next 300 years. The descendants of the wild apples, the different varieties of the Malus domesticus, are growing successfully all over the planet. Humans preserved them as varieties by grafting and breeding. As late as the 19th century, there were around 11,000 different varieties worldwide, mostly derived from chance seedlings. Today there is hardly any freely-growing nature left in which the apples could sow themselves. Hence there is no longer a natural development of the gene pool that would allow the apples to fight parasites and diseases.


Each variety is an individual tree by origin. People then took scions from it and grafted them as clones onto different tree bases. The Golden Delicious, for example, goes back one such chance finding. While the original tree has long since died, it continues to live in millions of clones all over the world. With the Golden Delicious and its children, industrial farming has pushed back almost all other apple varieties. Globally, there are less than twenty relevant varieties on the market, all relatives of the Golden Delicious. And yet, of all apple varieties, the Golden Delicious is a very susceptible one. This apple and its relatives can only survive with the help of chemicals, machines, and humans because they have little or no resistances to diseases and parasites. For apple farmers, this means a lot of effort with plant protection agents and labor, in conventional and organic farming alike. Consumers want to pay the lowest prices for immaculate fruit that is supposed to be available all year round. The trees that can deliver this are high performance-saplings growing on a trellis, most of which are cut down after a decade. The millions of tons of fruit we consume directly or as juice cannot be produced on meadow orchards. But in those monocultural plantations of clones, where different agents are sprayed on an almost weekly basis, new varieties of fungi or other pests can destroy whole yields, thus endangering the livelihoods of the farmers.


Because of this, genetic research is currently working on creating a superversion of the industrial apple with multiple (pyramidal) resistances. Due to a persisting, widespread fear of transgenic organisms—i.e. where genes from the birch or from fungi and bacteria were inserted into the genome of the apple—most recent research at institutes like the Julius Kühn-Institut in Dresden-Pillnitz, ETH Zurich, or HortResearch in New Zealand, for example, work on cisgenic apples, which only use genes from other apples, like wild varieties for instance. They argue that it is essentially no different from traditional crossbreeding, only much faster. It might also be possible to only genetically modify the rootstock, so that the fruit would benefit from the manipulation but not contain any alien genes. Alternatively, scientists are investigating seedless and sterile transgenic apples that can be developed but are unable to propagate themselves, thereby lowering the risk of contaminating other apple varieties.


An apple with multiple resistances—to different scab races and fire blight, for example—would need far fewer chemicals in the fields. That would be good news for the environment if it did not also imply that there would most likely be even fewer varieties in global monocultures. Research focuses mainly on the varieties that are most prevalent on the market: Golden Delicious, Gala, Fuji, and Granny Smith. Should the multi-resistant varieties be developed and approved, they would be unrivalled for the farmers. More local varieties would no longer be profitable, as the traders prefer those few varieties that already dominate the global markets today.


And yet, genetic engineering is used for more than just inserting resistances. The Arctic Apple, ® the first genetically-engineered apple which has just been approved in Canada, does not bruise or turn brown after cutting it open. This is convenient for the industry, which would then be able to keep pre-cut apples much longer in the supermarkets while the customer cannot tell how old the apple already is. Modern, conventional industrial apples can be kept fresh in controlled atmosphere (CA) storage and by applying SmartFresh gas. However, valuable substances are lost in the process. Other goals in research focus on functional food: apples with red flesh that are supposed to contain anti-oxidants and promote brain performance, for example, or seedless apples that are easier to eat.


There are still private breeders who breed a great number of new varieties for private gardens, including red flesh varieties. Unlike industrial farming and commerce, private gardeners are interested in diversity. Their apples are also selected for resistances. They have several advantages over genetically-engineered apple breeds. They can bring along natural resistances found on different genes, while genetic engineering can only work with monogenic resistances. What’s more, the entire genome is recombined with every generation. Sexual reproduction allows totally surprising new apples to emerge all the time. This makes breeding work very costly; these apple varieties are protected by trademark.


Nowadays, it is usually associations of several financially-sound and interested parties who develop new apple varieties for commercial fruit farming and acquire variety protection for them. This is how “club apples” like the Pink Lady (for which farmers have to pay a licence fee) came to be. Genetically modified apples can become subject to license fees, similar to many current club apples.


In 2014, a proposal for a European seed regulation law would have made it illegal to pass on seeds and scions without an expensive and lengthy approval procedure—it was initially rejected by the European Parliament. The process that over millennia lead to the development of our modern cultivated plants (with farmers propagating plants they liked and traders taking them along on their way from Asia to Europe) would only be possible for big corporations and state research institutes. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IT PGRFA), ratified by more and more countries around the world, aims to prevent genetic material from being transported across borders without a permit. It seeks to protect countries from having their genetic resources exploited. But it also means that very soon, every plant on this planet will belong to someone—be it governments, companies, or individuals.


Can a wild plant be somebody’s property?


With the wild apples, each apple is actually an individual, representing a unique, new variety, in the future, only human need will determine which apple genome gets permission to live in the form of millions of clones. And yet ultimately, it isn’t the consumer who decides what she would like to eat. It is as though the conditions of the capitalist market economy were forcing industrial apple farmers, apple juice producers, wholesale dealers, and supermarket chains to make the apple as a product cheaper and cheaper, and more and more homogenous.

The apple tree: a machine that serves our needs. That produces fruit and apple juice exactly as we would desire them—sweet, immaculate, and average-sized. That is supposed to always be the same, like a car. That is not allowed to procreate. Instead of an unlimited multitude of possible apples, it is possible that only five cloned, genetically-engineered individuals on two cloned rootstocks could be left worldwide. The apple core sticks to our dashboards in the car, so we remove its seeds through breeding. As soon as they can no longer procreate on their own, there is no way back to diversity.


We can help preserve the biological diversity of thousands of apple varieties by eating and growing them. If we buy where local farmers offer apples that were grown in meadow orchards, and are willing to pay a slightly higher price for them. We can adopt and foster trees in variety gardens like Eckart Brandt’s Boomgarden. If we have a garden or know of free spaces, we can also plant wild apples from Asia, Europe, and North America. They may be less sweet than a Golden Delicious, but we can make teas or use them in meat dishes—or simply look at them.


In this project, we want to help some old apple varieties and the domestic Malus sylvestris grow in new locations: in the cities of Łódź and Mönchengladbach, freely accessible to all citizens, and nobody’s property.


Free apples for free people.



Die Freiheit der Äpfel
HD Video, Farbe, Ton, Einkanalprojektion, 120 min
Mit Karen Albert-Hermann, Sotirios Arvanitis, Aidos Baltayev, Eckart Brandt, Gerd Czarnowski, Jimmie Durham, Marta Dygowska, Sergei Filatov, Dr. habil Henryk Flachowsky, Roland Gaber, Grzegorz Hodun, Dr. Monika Höfer, Ainur Jamantaeva, Kamil Jeziorek, Bernd Kajtna, Markus Kobelt, Bert Krämer, Dr. Alicja Kujawska, Erzhan Ashim Kitzhan-uly Oralbekov, Vladimir Kolbintsev, Sergei Kuratov, Antje Majewski, Johannes Maurer, Marian Orzeszek, Prof.Andrzej Przybyła, Caty Schernus, Martyna Urbańczyk , Xu Shuxian

Regie: Antje Majewski
Produktion: Muzeum Sztuki, Łódź, Polen
Kuratorinnen: Aleksandra Jach, Joanna Sokołowska
Produktionsassistenz: Przemysław Purtak
Kamera: Patricia Lewandowska, Antje Majewski
Sound: Patricia Lewandowska, Antje Majewski
Tonbearbeitung: Christian Obermaier
Schnitt: Antje Majewski
Schnittassistenz: Bettina Nürnberg
Zusätzlicher Schnitt: Magdalena Golba
Untertitel, Color Grading: Bettina Nürnberg
Assistenz: Maria Dabow
Beratung: Maike Majewski
Zusätzliche Kamera und Voice-over Japan: Fumiko Kikuchi
Assistenz Marokko: Assia Alaouni, M’Barek Ait Gmousse
Assistenz China: Xu Shuxian
Organisation Kasachstan: Dagmar Schreiber
Deutsch–Englisch: Maike Majewski, Amy Patton
Polnisch–Englisch: Monika Fryszkowska
Englisch–Deutsch: Antje Majewski, Maike Majewski
Russisch–Englisch: Alisa Savtchenko
Transkriptionen: Monika Fryszkowska, Antje Majewski, Anna Vetter
Proofreading: Julia Noack, Amy Patton


[1] Cox’s Orange Pippin was first cultivated in 1830 by retired horticulturist Richard Cox. It now accounts for over 50% of the UK acreage of dessert apples. The apple can be difficult to grow in many environments, and is susceptible to diseases including scab, mildew, and canker. It has parented a few dozen other apple varieties, including the well-known Elstar, Rubinette, and James Grieve varieties, along with many others.
[2] The Rubinette’s other parent is the Golden Delicious, as with many apples,
[3] Pomona was the Roman goddess of fruit trees. Her name is derived from the Latin word pomum (“tree fruit” or “fruit crop”).
[4] Szczepan Aleksander Pieniążek (19132008) was a professor at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, where he headed the Department of Pomology. Between 1951 and 1983, he served as co-founder and director of the Institute of Pomology in Skierniewice (later Research Institute of Pomology and Floriculture). His scientific work dealt with pomology, plant physiology, the cultivation of fruit trees, and orchard protection. Pieniążek published some one hundred scientific articles and books and is mostly known for his achievements in growing low-form (dwarf) varieties of fruit trees as they are used in industrial orchards today.
[5] The term “meadow orchard” (Streuobstwiese in German) first appeared between 1950 and 1960. Most fruit orchards in northern Germany have slow-growing, high stem trees and meadows, allowing room for livestock underneath. In southern Germany, the meadow orchards are loosely intermingled with larger meadow areas. Many of these northern German orchards fell victim to three great waves of tree felling. First in the 1960s, with the clearing of unprofitable or inefficient holdings, then orchard meadows were cut down between 1970 to 1973, and in the 1990s, when commercial plantations with less than 700 trees per hectare were leveled.
[6] M9 is the latest rootstock in today’s industrial plantations. It is very dwarfing. It grows to a mature height of 2.4–3.0 m, bearing fruit after 3–4 years, mature yield 23–29 kg after 5–6 years. Permanent staking is required, as is routine feeding and watering. The rootstock is very susceptible to fire blight and can develop burr knots.
[7] M106 rootstock: Semi-vigorous. Mature height: 3–4 m, spread 4 m, mature yield 23–54 kg.
[8] M26 rootstock: Semi-dwarfing. Mature height: 3–4 m, spread: 4 m, mature yield: 13.5–23 kg.
[9] ATS (ammonium thiosulphate) is a fertilizer and thinning agent used to produce fewer, but bigger apples, in the size preferred by consumers.
[10] Regalis® Plus-Pack by BASF is a growth regulator for the control of shoot growth in apples. It contains the agent Prohexadion-Calcium.
[11] Foliar fertilization: Mineral absorption happens mainly through the roots, but the leaves can also resorb water and matter dissolved in it through micropores on the surface. In theory, you could nourish a plant through the leaves alone. The targeted application or spraying of mineral nutrients with diluted fertilizing salt-solutions during certain growth periods has become increasingly important for Integrated Crop Management (ICM). Additional provisions of mainly nitrogen, magnesium, and trace elements through the leaf have been used successfully in practical cultivation for years.
[12] The common pear phytophagic (Cacopsylla pyri or Psylla pyri) is a pear parasite that belongs to the Psyllidae family, jumping plant lice.
[13] Copper sulfate pentahydrate is a fungicide. However, some fungi are capable of adapting to elevated levels of copper ions. Copper sulfate inhibits the growth of bacteria such as Escherichia coli.
[14] Bordeaux mixture (also called Bordo Mix) was the first successful fungicide. A mixture of copper (II) sulfate (CuSO4) and slaked lime (Ca(OH)2), it is used to prevent infestations of downy mildew, powdery mildew and other fungi.
[15] NeemAzal®-T/S (ecological insecticide) was especially designed to fight wild parasitic sucking or biting insects and mites. Apart from the natural ingredient from the Neem tree, the plant protecting agent contains plant oils and tensides based on renewable raw materials.
[16] The apple scab pathogen is a fungus known as Venturia inaequalis. It hibernates in the fallen leaves of the trees and infects the first freshly sprouting leaves of the apple tree. Pale, olive green spots appear first on the leaves and then on the fruit, turning brownish or black later on. The fruit grow malformed. While consuming apples with scab is not a health risk, infected fruit cannot be sold.
[17] Golden Delicious is a chance seedling, possibly a hybrid of Grimes Golden and Golden Reinette. The original tree was found on the Mullins family farm in Clay County, West Virginia, United States. “I was born in 1876, on the farm where that apple tree later became famous. My dad was L. L. Mullins, who owned the farm. Now one day, when I was about fifteen years old—that would have been about 1891—dad sent me out with a big old mowin’ scythe to mow the pasture field. I was swingin’ away with the scythe when I came across a little apple tree that had grown about twenty inches tall. It was just a new little apple tree that had volunteered there. There wasn’t another apple tree right close by anywhere. I thought to myself, ‘Now young feller, I’ll just leave you there,’ and that’s what I did. I mowed around it and on other occasions I mowed around it again and again, and it grew into a nice lookin’ little apple tree and eventually it was a big tree and bore apples. Now my dad later gave that piece of the farm in a trade to my brother, B. W. Mullins, and later still he traded the farm place to Uncle Anderson Mullins. Uncle Anderson had a brother-in-law named Gus Carnes, and one day Gus and Uncle Anderson decided to send some of the apples to the Stark Brothers nursery to tell what kind of apple it was. And that was when the tree became famous and started the Golden Delicious apple line, for it was that tree that has produced every last one of the Golden Delicious apple trees that have ever grown anywhere. The Starks sent a man to look at the tree, just like you’ve heard, and they bought the tree and the ground for 30 feet around it, and eventually they fenced it. They were to get all the fruit from the tree, down to the last apple.” – quoted in “Dunbar Man ‘Discoverer’ of Golden Delicious Apple,” Charleston Daily Mail, October 18, 1962.
[18] The Seestermüher Lemon apple, also called Golden Renetta or Cabbage apple, is an aromatic winter apple.
[19] Actually, it is a product that prevents ethylene from interacting with the apple. SmartFresh (SmartFresh Quality System) is a brand of synthetic produce quality enhancer based on 1-methylcyclopropene (1-MCP). It is marketed by AgroFresh (owned by Dow AgroSciences). 1-MCP’s mode of action is via a preferential attachment to the ethylene receptor, thereby blocking the effects of both endogenous and exogenous ethylene. It is applied in storage facilities and transit containers to slow down the ripening process and the production of the ethylene in fruit. MCP can be combined with the controlled atmosphere (CA) technology that has been standard industry practice for the past fifty years. The secondary active ingredient in SmartFresh, a-cyclodextrim, is probably responsible for synthetic perfume-like scent it has when removed from the cooler temperature of the store shelf. Fruits treated with 1-MCP are not subject to any labelling regulations, are allowed for use with certified organic foods, and are therefore non-distinguishable from untreated products. There are neither absolute certitudes nor extensive studies about the health risks of using this product.
[20] Johann Georg Conrad Oberdieck (1794–1880) was a Lutheran pastor and one of the most important German pomologists of the 19th century. He collected 1500 varieties in Sulingen. See: Pomologische Tafeln zum Bestimmen der Obstsorten: systematische Zusammenstellung der Abbildungen des Illustrirten Handbuchs der Obstkunde von Overdieck, Jahn und Lucas, 1869; Pomologische Notizen, 1869.
[21] Josef “Sepp” Holzer (b. 1942 in Ramingstein, Salzburg, Austria) is a farmer, author, and international consultant for natural agriculture. He took over his parents’ mountain farm business in 1962 and pioneered the use of ecological farming, or permaculture, techniques at high altitudes (1100 to 1500 meters above sea level). Holzer has been called the “rebel farmer.” He does not graft or prune his fruit trees, as un-pruned fruit trees survive snow loads that would break pruned ones.
[22] Diedrich Uhlhorn, Jr (1843–1915) was a German engineer and fruit breeder. In 1878, he bred the Zuccalmaglios Renetta, naming it after his father-in-law. Other varieties include the Freiherr von Berlepsch (1880), which is still widely grown in the Rhineland today, and the Ernst Bosch apple variety (1906).
[23] John Chapman (1774–1845), nicknamed Johnny Appleseed, was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as the northern counties of present day West Virginia. He was also a missionary for The New Church (Swedenborgian). The popular image is of Johnny Appleseed spreading apple seeds randomly, everywhere he went. In fact, he planted nurseries rather than orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock, left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery. Johnny Appleseed left an estate of over 1,200 acres (490 hectacres) of valuable nurseries to his sister. His apples were not grafted varieties and delivered apples for cider, thus bringing alcohol to North America. His traveling song or Swedenborgian hymn is still sung before meals today in some American households: “Oooooh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me the things I need, the sun and the rain and the apple seed. The Lord is good to me. Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.”
[24] Maria Theresa Alvez (b. 1961) is a Brazilian artist.
[25] Malus sieversii has been shown to be the primary ancestor of most cultivars of the domesticated apple (Malus domestica). It can reach a height of 5–30 meters and has a lifespan of at least 300 years, probably much longer. Old individuals can have a stem that is between one meter and in extreme cases two meters wide. It is a wild apple native to the mountains of Central Asia in southern Kazakhstan, eastern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Northern Afghanistan and Xinjiang, China. It grows in large forests in some parts of the Tian Shan Mountains, especially in the Dzungarian Alatau. It was first described (as Pyrus sieversii) in 1833 by Carl Friedrich von Ledebour, a German naturalist who observed them growing in the Altai Mountains. Kazakh pomologist Aymak Djangaliev (1913-2009) devoted his life to the study and conservation of this species. In his scientific and historical studies, he was able to show that the original apple had a combination of genes that has been modified through domestication and the journey from Asia to Europe.
[26] Malus orientalis is very variable in its characteristics. It is a tree that reaches a height of about nine to twelve meters, in rare cases up to twenty meters. Its fruits are yellowish green, round, and measure two to three centimeters in diameter. They are sweet to sour, but often bitter and astringent. Malus orientalis is at home in the region that includes northern Anatolia, northern Iran, and the Caucasus, and extends from the Volga and the Crimea to the North. Genetic studies have shown the Caucasus apple to be the second most important ancestor of the Malus domesticus, though less influential than the Malus sieversii. Although it is a wild form, the fruit are used as juice or jam. The seedlings serve as a base for cultivars. The apple is susceptible to scab and fire blight, and, depending on its origin, also to mildew.
[27] Malus baccata is a species of apple known by the common names Siberian crab apple, Manchurian crab apple and Chinese crab apple. It is native to most of Asia, but is also grown elsewhere as an ornamental tree and as a rootstock. It bears plentiful, fragrant white flowers and edible red-to-yellow fruit that is approximately one centimeter in diameter.
[28] In 2011, Dr. Henryk Flachowsky, Monika Höfer, and Prof. Viola Hanke embarked on a joint expedition to the Caucasus. From their report: “Vavilov (1930) already characterized the Caucasus as the center of an immense forest that consists solely of the wild ancestors of fruit. Bumistrov (1995) specified the Caucasus as one of the richest centers of diversity for wild fruit varieties on Earth: more than 260 types of thirty-seven species were established. (…) Among these are the so-called Circassian varieties, which have special position, having emerged as the result of a 3,000-year-old horticulture among the Circassian people (Adyghe). One of the specific characteristics of the Adyghe fruit production was the very high level of diversity with regard to the variety structure. Fruit production was not restricted to gardens near houses, but included transforming the surrounding forest into forest-gardens. Among others, we found the Circassian varieties Čerkesskij Bergamot (pear) and Čerkesskij Rozmarin (apple).” See:
[29] The German term for the Jerusalem artichoke, Topinambur, is a reference to the Tupinambá, a Tupi ethnic group that did not survive the colonization of present-day Brazil by Portuguese settlers. It was also found in North America. French explorer Samuel de Champlain found domestically-cultivated plants at Cape Cod in 1605 and brought the plant back with him to France. By the mid-1600s, the topinambour or Jerusalem artichoke had become a very common vegetable for human consumption in Europe and the Americas, and was also used to feed livestock in Europe and colonial America.
[30] Wild potato species occur throughout the Americas from the United States to southern Chile. Genetic testing of the wide variety of cultivars and wild species proved a single origin for potatoes in the area of present-day southern Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia (from a species in the Solanum brevicaule complex), where they were domesticated approximately 7,000–10,000 years ago. After centuries of selective breeding, there are now over a thousand different types of potatoes. It remains an essential crop in Europe (especially eastern and central Europe), where per capita production is still the highest in the world. However, the most rapid expansion over the past few decades has occurred in southern and eastern Asia. By 2007, China led the world in potato production, and today nearly a third of the world’s potatoes are harvested in China and India.
[31] Malus sylvestris, the European crab apple. It is common in Central Europe and now severely threatened. Malus sylvestris was named the 2013 Tree of the Year in Germany.
[32] Malus coronaria, also known as a sweet crabapple or garland crab.
[33] Malus fusca, also known as Oregon crabapple or Pacific crabapple, is a species of crabapple. It is native to western North America from Alaska to California, where it grows in coniferous forests.
[34] Bears love the fruit and also have helped with the natural selection, because they love to shake the big fruit from the trees. They eat them and defecate the seeds along with their faeces, which in turn serve as a natural fertilizer.
[35] International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IT PGRFA), popularly known as the International Seed Treaty, was first enacted in 2004. Its implementation between the years 2007 and 2014 is credited with “rapid progress in improving the uses of plant genetic resources along the seed value chain at a global level. The treaty has created a global gene pool for food security under the direct control of all contracting parties with 1.6 million samples of genetic material that facilitate research for major important crops including maize, rice, wheat and cassava, and others.” International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture website, accessed June 9, 2015:
[36] The European Commission presented the project to the public on May 6, 2013. The commission planned 2016 as the year the regulation would go into effect. Critics feared hurdles that only big corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer CropScience or KWS SAAT would be able to overcome. Some associations started a shared petition. With 650 votes against the proposal and 15 votes in favor, delegates to the European parliament clearly rejected the EU Commission’s proposition on March 11, 2014.
[37] Plants that are not native to the area.
[38] “Growing knowledge and technical progress in procedures of genomics and plant genetics open up new opportunities for breeding and also for patenting biological material. The EU Biotech Directive (98/44/EG) from 1998 serves as the basis for current patenting law in Germany and other EU member states. It defines the extent to which biological material or living beings can be patented. 1) Only inventions are patentable, but not discoveries. Already existing things that have merely been found, and parts of nature or living creatures cannot be patented. However, parts of organisms that have been isolated by technical procedures, such as a cell or a genetic sequence, can represent a patentable invention, as they are not in their natural context.
2) Plant varieties and animal races are excluded from patent protection, as are “mainly biological procedures” for breeding, such as hybridizing or selecting. However, new procedures of molecular biology, like those used in modern plant breeding, are patentable as long as they include a technical step. Single genes can also receive a patent, but only if an “inventive effort” was made. It may consist of identifying the precise function of the gene and derive a commercial applicability from it. 3) Patentable inventions are not specific to a variety as they refer to a technical element that can be used on different varieties and cultivated species.” Translated from a website run by the Technology, Theology, and Natural Sciences Institute at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, accessed June 9, 2015:
[39] Examples of widely-used club variety apples include: Cripps Pink (brand name: Pink Lady), Fuji (brand name: Kiku), Milwa (brands: Junami, Diwa), Civni (brand: Rubens), Nicoter (brand: Kanzi), Scifresh (brand name: Jazz), and Ambrosia.
[40] The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States. Proponents say the agreement would result in multilateral economic growth, while critics say it would increase corporate power and make it more difficult for governments to regulate markets for public benefit.
[41] Luther Burbank (1849–1926) was an American botanist, horticulturist and pioneer in agricultural science who developed several hundred new fruit, vegetable, and decorative plant varieties. His official botanical author abbreviation is “Burbank.” Burbank was immensely popular in his time, a star in the field of botany and plant breeding. Even today, the verb to burbank means to change and improve plants. The Burbank potato variety is one of the most important varieties on the US market. Burbank crossbred dozens of times to create new varieties, partially with plants sent to him from all over the world. He generally conducted up to 3,000 experiments with several millions of plants in parallel. His work with plums involved testing some 30,000 new varieties.
Burbank was a student of Paramahansa Yogananda, and is mentioned in Yogananda’s 1946 Autobiography of a Yogi: “His heart was fathomlessly deep, long acquainted with humility, patience, sacrifice. His little home amid the roses was austerely simple; he knew the worthlessness of luxury, the joy of few possessions. The modesty with which he wore his scientific fame repeatedly reminded me of the trees that bend low with the burden of ripening fruits; it is the barren tree that lifts its head high in an empty boast.” Autobiography of a Yogi (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1996), 416.
[42] Erwin Baur (1875–1933) was a German geneticist and botanist. Baur worked primarily on plant genetics. He was director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Breeding Research (1938 Erwin Baur-Institute, since 2009 Max-Planck-Institute für Plant Breeding Research). Baur is considered to the father of plant virology. He discovered the inheritance of plastids. In 1921 and 1932, Baur co-authored with Fritz Lenz and Eugen Fischer two volumes that became the book Human Heredity, which was a major influence on the racial theories of Adolf Hitler. Baur was one of the creators of the ideas of the need for “racial hygiene” in the human populations, in which the state should assume the role of the missing natural enemies and eliminate unwanted individuals—thus preparing the ground for the Holocaust.
[43] In Germany, t thatourth criterion is: will yield large fruit of a similar quality as those___________________________________________________he beginnings of fruit breeding on a scientific basis were in Dresden-Pillnitz and Müncheberg. In 1922, the Higher Teaching Academy for Horticulture in Dresden-Pillnitz on the Elbe was founded, which already included a section for plant breeding. See also the Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI) website, accessed June 10, 2015: In an official brochure for the Julius-Kühn Institut, Erwin Baur, after whom an apple variety was named, is referred to as the “doyen of German breeding research.”
[44] Malus atrosanguinea, a type of crab apple tree that is resistant to verticillium, the fungi that causes so-called “verticillium wilt.”
[45] Malus floribunda, also known as Japanese flowering crabapple, purple chokeberry, or snowy crabapple, originates from Japan and East Asia. It might be a wild species or a hybrid of Malus sieboldii and Malus baccata. Malus floribunda has a natural genetic resistance to scab that has been used for breeding.
[46] September 29, 2014: A lesbian couple from Uniontown, Ohio, filed a lawsuit against a sperm bank for “wrongful birth.” They had elected to buy the semen of a white man for their child, and had a black baby instead. The lawsuit argues that the sperm bank “failed to deliver what was agreed upon.” Lindsey Bever, “White woman sues sperm bank after she mistakenly gets black donor’s sperm,” Washington Post, October 2, 2014.
April 24, 2015: Chinese scientists claim that they have genetically modified human embryos for the very first time. The team attempted to modify the gene responsible for beta thalassaemia, a potentially fatal blood disorder, using a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR/Cas9. Gene editing is a recently developed type of genetic engineering in which DNA is inserted, replaced, or removed. ResearchSEA, “World’s First Genetic Modification of Human Embryos Reported: Experts Consider Ethics.” ScienceDaily, April 24, 2015.
[47] In 2010, scientists sequenced the Golden Delicious apple’s complete genome in a collaborative effort between eighteen research institutions in the US, Belgium, France, New Zealand, and Italy, coordinated by Italy’s Istituto Agrario Di San Michele All’Adige (IASMA). It had the highest number of genes (57,000) of any plant genome studied to date and proved that Malus sieversii is the main ancestor of Malus domesticus. Researchers were able to determine the precise position on the chromosome for over 90%,of the genes. The study identified all 992 genes responsible for disease resistance, which helps genetic researchers and breeders.
[48] Fire blight, or fireblight, is a contagious disease affecting apples, pears, and some other members of the family Rosaceae. It is a serious concern to producers of apples and pears. Under optimal conditions, it can destroy an entire orchard in a single growing season. The causal pathogen is Erwinia amylovora, a Gram-negative bacterium in the family Enterobacteriaceae. The name derives from the appearance of the disease, which can make affected areas appear blackened, shrunken, and cracked, as though scorched by fire. [Wikipedia] Fire blight was first observed in the US in 1870. The disease first appeared in Europe in 1957, in southern England. In 1971, the pathogen was detected in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. From there it spread towards the west and south. In the 1980s, fire blight caused major losses to fruit farming in areas of East Germany. Trees had to be cut down on a large scale. Since 1993, southern Germany (especially in the Lake Constance region) has seen fire blight infection rates so severe that it also endangers areas of commercial fruit farming well into Austria and Switzerland. Since 1994, the disease has spread to northern Italy. In 2002, it was first observed in the secluded fruit farming area of South Tyrol. Today the pathogen is endemic to Germany and cannot be eradicated. Severity of infection depends mostly on weather conditions during the blooming phase. Information from the Julius Kühn-Institut website, accessed June 10, 2015:
[49] In 1994, researchers at the company Plant Research International in Wageningen, the Netherlands already introduced an apple-scab-resistant gene from barley into the genetic material of the Golden Delicious and the Elstar. The transgenic trees were then tested in the open.
[50] HortResearch is the privatized national horticultural research agency in New Zealand. It has developed a red flesh apple rich in antioxidants using SMART-Breeding Technology (see footnote 53). It is supposed to have a high concentration of anthocyanine, the flavonoid that gives the plant its pigmentation and is believed to have antioxidant properties and potentially promotes cognitive development. This red flesh apple was first presented in 2006, but failed to meet industrial standards for storage and is thus mainly used for fruit juice. It targets the growing market for functional fruits. Red flesh apples appear especially in North American wild apples and cultivars, for example in the Black Arkansas apple that Jimmie Durham planted during documenta. Lubera is one of the few private companies that successfully introduced red flesh varieties through classic breeding.
[51] Frank Majewski (1941-2001) was a German pediatrician and professor for human genetics at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf. The following malformation syndromes have been named after him: Lenz-Majewski syndrome, Mohr-Majewski syndrome, and Majewski syndrome. He also carried out intensive research on the causes of fetal alcoholembryopathia (fetal alcohol syndrome). In 2003, the Frank Majewski Award was established to support syndromology in clinical genetics.
[52] This procedure is used in so-called SMART breeding (Selection with Markers and Advanced Reproductive Technologies) or precision breeding, a genetic engineering technique of reproducing members of a species together in order to retain desirable traits and thus produce a stronger hybrid.
In choosing the suitable plants, scientists rely on so-called genetic markers. Aided by short, artificially produced DNA-snippets (probes) that attach themselves to specific genetic markers in the genetic material, they can determine rather quickly whether the desired gene variants exists in a plant. Because the genetic marker already works with young seedlings, this procedure saves a lot of time compared to traditional breeding, which requires that the breeder wait until the plant is fully grown. An important limitation of this technique is the fact that the desired genes have to already exist in a plant in order to be able to breed them. Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have managed to breed a rice variety that can survive several weeks of flood on the fields. Tomatoes with higher sugar content were especially bred for the ketchup industry.
[53] Since the beginnings of systematic plant breeding, corn has been considered a model plant for research and development in the area of breeding methodology, which has in effect led to the hybrid breeding practiced worldwide today.
[54] Monsanto is the best known and one of the biggest producers of genetically modified crops. It was among the first to genetically modify a plant cell (1983) and to conduct field tests of genetically modified crops (1987). Monsanto was a pioneer in applying the biotechnology industry business model to agriculture: companies invest heavily in research and development, and recoup the expenses through the use and enforcement of biological patents. Monsanto’s application of this model to agriculture, along with a growing movement to create a global, uniform system of regulations on plant breeding in the 1980s, came into direct conflict with customary practices of farmers to save, reuse, share, and develop plant varieties. Its seed-patenting model has also been criticized as biopiracy and a threat to biodiversity. Many of Monsanto’s agricultural seed products are genetically modified for resistance to herbicides, such as glyphosate. Monsanto sells glyphosate under the brand name Roundup—the seeds that are resistant against it are called Roundup Ready. Monsanto’s introduction of this system (planting glyphosate-resistant seed and then applying glyphosate once the plants grow) provided farmers with an opportunity to dramatically increase yield from a given plot of land, since this allowed them to plant the rows closer together. Without it, farmers had to plant the rows far enough apart to control weeds with mechanical tillage. Farmers have widely adopted the technology. For example: over 90% of the maize (MON 832), soybean (MON-Ø4Ø32-6), cotton, sugar beet, and canola planted in the United States is glyphosate-resistant.
[55] “In cooperation with Dr. Henry Flachowsky, Prof. Viola Hanke and others from the Julius Kühn-Institut in Dresden, Swiss scientist Cesare Gessler and his team at ETH Zürich have introduced the apple scab resistance gene Rvi6 from Malus floribunda 821 (which has also been used in classic breeding of apple varieties) into the Gala variety using cisgenic engineering methods. All further regulatory sequences necessary for the transfer and expression of the “target gene” are derived from apple plants. A so-called marker gene, which is essential for recognizing genetically engineered plant cells, was removed after fulfilling its function. Thus, in the end, the genetically modified apple only contains genes from a related apple variety that could also be crossbred naturally. For this reason, the product is not “transgenic” (Lat. trans = “across” (species)), but rather “cisgenic” (Lat. cis = “on this side of”). As part of the Swiss National Research Program NFP 59, three cisgenic lines of apples were tested under controlled greenhouse conditions. Since autumn 2011, apple saplings have been planted outdoors at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.” Source: website run by the Technology, Theology, and Natural Sciences Institute at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, accessed June 9, 2015:
“As a larger part of the European public rejects products that are derived from genetically altered plants, especially due to the potential for unwanted/unknown effects of the target gene as well as the presence of selectable marker gene(s): We therefore chose the approach of cisgenics and created a GM of the Gala variety in which the endogenous HcrVf2 gene, with its own regulating sequences was inserted by transforming an Agrobacterium, followed by slitting off the selecting marker genes.” C. Gessler, T. Vanblaere, G. Parravicini, G.A.L. Broggini, “Cisgenic ‘Gala’ Containing the Scab Resistance Gene from Malus floribunda 821 and the Fire Blight Resistance Genes from Malus ‘Evereste,’” ISHS Acta Horticulturae 1048: II International Symposium on Biotechnology of Fruit Species (2012).
March 2014 saw the presentation of the first apple with a single fire blight resistance produced by cisgenic methods, also developed and tested by Cesare Gessler (ETH Zürich) in cooperation with the Julius Kühn-Institut in Dresden. This time, a gene from Malus robusta 5 (Mr5) was inserted into the Gala variety.
See: Broggini, G.A.L.; T. Wöhner, J. Fahrentrapp, T.D. Kost, H. Flachowsky, A. Peil, M-V. Hanke, et al, “Engineering Fire Blight Resistance into the Apple Cultivar “Gala” Using the FB_MR5 CC-NBS-LRR Resistance Gene of Malus 9 Robusta 5,” Plant Biotechnology Journal 12 no. 6 (2014).
[56] In the past, the Julius Kühn-Institut has repeatedly had problems with environmentalists who, for example, objected plans to plant up to 10,000 transgenic apple trees outdoors in Dresden-Pillnitz in 2003. “The apple plants that were to be released contained one of a total of eight different genetic constructs that are supposed to promote the plant’s resistance to pathogens. The genes are derived from various organisms, from bacteriophages, a fungus and a silkworm moth. They all enable the production of proteins effective in fighting bacteria or fungi. For example, a gene from bacteriophage T4 causes the plant to produce lysozyme, a protein that attacks the cell wall of bacteria. Another gene from the fugus Trichoderma harzianum is responsible for the production of chitinase enzymes, which dissolve the cell walls of other fungi.” Source:
[57] “It takes six to ten years for an apple tree to flower for the first time. This means that researchers have to wait for at least six years following the hybridization before they are able to assess the fruit of seedlings. The same period of time must also elapse before the next stage of the breeding process can be carried out. In Dresden-Pillnitz, scientists have successfully developed plants that flower the first year after sowing by transferring a birch gene. These early-flowering apple plants are then used in a conventional breeding program. Henryk Flachowsky explains, ‘The consideration with this is: if these transgenic plants are used for hybridization, 50% of the offspring will be transgenic, in other words they will flower early. If a resistance gene is inserted as well, 50% of the offspring will carry this resistance gene and a quarter of the offspring will carry both. A seedling is selected from this quarter for backcrossing. This process is repeated in several stages until the fruit quality of the seedlings reaches a certain level. At the end of the breeding process, seedlings are selected that are resistant and have good fruit quality, but are no longer transgenic. It works just like traditional breeding, but it’s quicker.’ To further accelerate the breeding process, work is being conducted on molecular markers, i.e. apple seedlings will undergo molecular analysis for certain genes at an early stage, rather than waiting to assess the appearance of the mature plants. Researchers at the institute in Dresden-Pillnitz are investigating another method for stimulating apple trees to bloom sooner. Henryk Flachowsky has to go into some detail to explain this approach. In recent years, scientists have obtained a greater understanding of the genes that initiate flowering in the model plant Arabidopsis (rockcress). The Flowering Locus T (FT) gene is thought to play a crucial role. ‘It was previously thought that hormones controlled this process, but we now know that it is a protein. The FT-protein is formed in the leaves and is probably carried up towards the shoot tips through the plant’s nutrient pathways, where it causes the vegetative meristem to change into a generative meristem. Apples have matching (homologous) genes that are very similar to what is thought to be the ‘flowering gene’ in Arabidopsis—the FT gene. The scientists in Dresden-Pillnitz want to find out whether stimulating the rootstock to produce an excess of natural apple FT-protein will result in the protein being transported to a grafted non-transgenic plant. Could this method be used to produce an apple seedling that flowers after just one year, but is not transgenic itself? If this works, then fruit would only contain the natural apple protein, no transgene.” Source: Public relations material for biological safety research, commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), accessed June 10, 2015:
[58] ZUEFOS (Breeding of fireblight resistant fruit variety): The project for developing and testing fire blight resistant varieties is a cooperation between Agroscope, Institute for Plant Production Sciences (IPS); ETH Zürich (work group Prof. Cesare Gessler), Lubera AG and Fruture GmbH (private-sector apple breeding companies), and VariCom GmbH, which introduces Agroscope fruit varieties to the market. A German-language PDF describing the cooperation is available online, accessed June 11, 2015:
[59] Julius Kühn-Institut’s response to environmentalist concerns that transgenic apples could irreversibly contaminate other apples during their outdoor experiments was the idea that they would produce transgenic plants that would not be able to propagate naturally. “The combination of useful genes, e.g. disease resistance, with genes for pollen sterility or parthenocarpy would make it much easier to use transgenic woody plants. By using male-sterile apple breeding lines, it is possible to prevent the transfer of the transgenes to other woody plants through the pollen. Genetic engineering enables us to insert the characteristic for male sterility directly into apple breeding lines. In addition, we pursue genetic engineering approaches to parthenocarpic fruit development, i.e. the formation of seedless fruit. Parthenocarpy is known to occur naturally in apples. With our research project, we want to contribute to the prevention of outcrossing of transgenes and the uncontrolled spreading of genetically modified seeds in the environment.” Prof. Viola Hanke, Julius Kühn-Institut in Dresden-Pillnitz, 2005. Source: Public relations material for biological safety research, commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), accessed June 10, 2015:
[60] Petals are modified leaves that surround the reproductive parts in the flower of most Angiosperms (flowering plants).
[61] Parthenocarpy (literally meaning virgin fruit) in plants is the production of fruit without fertilization of ovules. The development of the fruit can be induced by mechanical stimulation of the blossom’s carpal, which leads to a release of growth substances. We differentiate between inductive parthenocarpy which is triggered by external stimuli, vegetative parthenocarpy, which occurs spontaneously, and artificial parthenocarpy (stenospermocarpy), where the seeds are aborted while still small and the ripe fruit seem to be parthenocarp, as in seedless grapes, for example. Parthenocarpy is widespread in apples, pears, grapes, figs, pineapple, citrus fruit, and bananas, but it can also be induced artificially in other plants by treating the blossoms with auxin. Parthenocarpy is also created by genetic engineering, either to obtain seedless fruit, or to prevent transgenic plants from spreading. [Wikipedia]
[62] The Arctic Apple® was addressed in a dispatch from the US Center for Food Safety in Washington DC, released February 13, 2015: “Today the Center for Food Safety expressed deep concern over the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) decision to approve a first-of-its-kind genetically engineered (GE) apple that doesn’t brown after bruising or slicing. The apple, developed by the company Okanagan Specialty Fruits, uses a relatively new form of genetic engineering called RNA interference or gene silencing, which has raised numerous concerns from consumer groups, environmentalists, and the apple industry (RNAi). Like other GE products in the US, no mandatory labeling will be required. This approval allows commercial production of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties of Okanagan’s non-browning “Arctic” apple, and the company has Fuji and Gala versions on the horizon. Unlike earlier cut-and-splice techniques focused on DNA, the new techniques, called RNA interference or RNAi, are based on the manipulation of RNA molecules in order to dial back the expression of, or silence, genes. The Arctic Apple has been engineered to reduce polyphenol oxidase (PPO) enzymes responsible for browning in apple flesh. However, these enzymes are also found throughout the tree, where impacts of the engineering were not determined. In addition, recent studies show that interference targeting one gene might unpredictably turn off, or turn down, unrelated genes. In other plants, PPO genes are known to bolster pest and stress resistance. As a result, non-browning apple trees might be more vulnerable to disease and require more pesticides than conventional apples. Okanagan did not analyze PPO gene functions in apples other than browning in the fruit.” Source: Center for Food Safety website, accessed June 10, 2015:
[63] The Unique selling proposition (USP) or unique selling point is used in marketing and sales psychology to denote the particular characteristic by which the one offer differs from others in the competition.
[64] Genetic use restriction technology, colloquially known as “terminator technology,” produces plants that have sterile seeds. If put into use, it would prevent the spread of those seeds into the wild. It also would prevent farmers from planting seeds they harvest, requiring them to repurchase seed for every planting—although they also need to do this for hybrid seeds, because second-generation seeds are inferior, and in cases of patented transgenic seeds, where patent-holders like Monsanto enter into contracts with farmers who agree not to plant harvested seeds as a condition of purchase. Terminator technology has been developed by governmental labs, university researchers, and companies, sometimes in collaboration and sometimes independently. The technology has never been known to have been used commercially. Rumors that Monsanto and other companies intended to introduce terminator technology have caused protests, for example in India. In 1999, Monsanto pledged not to commercialize terminator technology. The Delta and Pine Land Company intended to commercialize the technology, but D&PL was acquired by Monsanto in 2007. [Wikipedia] Since apples are propagated vegetatively, the problem lies here with patenting of variety.