Andy Nelson, Markets Editor
Andy Nelson, Markets Editor

Ambrosia apples are becoming more and more popular.

But British Columbia growers don’t want them to become too popular.

How can popular become too popular?

If growers overproduce and turn a premium product into a commodity, that’s how, said Bruce Currie, chairman of the British Columbia-based New Varieties Development Council, which manages provincial production of the Ambrosia.

The council, which despite its name is concerned solely with Ambrosias (a proposed name change to the Ambrosia Council was nixed by lawyers), recently got its second five-year lease on life, Currie said, when growers voted in favor of it and the provincial government gave its blessing.

The New Varieties Development Council functions much like a U.S.-style marketing order. Canadian Ambrosia growers pay 2 1/2 cents per pound, or $1 per box, to fund the organization’s activities.

The council, founded in 2001, is the only one of its kind in British Columbia devoted to a single variety of apple.

That special status seems justified by the reception the Ambrosia, a variety native to British Columbia, has received in Canada, the U.S. and around the world.

“It’s an apple that’s becoming quite well known,” Currie said. “There aren’t too many people who don’t like it.”

In fact, Currie goes so far as to call the Ambrosia a “perfect” variety. It’s grower-friendly, it’s delicious, it earns growers big margins and it stores well.

Until fairly recently, Ambrosias were nowhere to be found on most retail shelves after January. This year, they were still shipping in June and still on shelves in July, Currie said.

With success, however, has come risk, he said. British Columbia growers who have struggled with shrinking margins became spooked by the specter of Ambrosia plantings increasing to the point where the price dipped too low for growers to make a profit, Currie said.

The Ambrosia is apple royalty, consistently ranking second only to Honeycrisps in average retail price. Overproduction could well endanger that status, Currie said.

As a result, the industry came up with an interesting solution.

The British Columbia-based owners of the Ambrosia trademark got together with Ambrosia marketers and with the company that sells the budwood that nurseries and growers use to grow Ambrosia trees.

They worked out a deal in which the budwood producer collects a $3.75 royalty for each Ambrosia tree grown from its stock, Currie said.

That puts an effective brake on overeager would-be Ambrosia tycoons.

There’s another reason besides market protection for limiting Ambrosia acreage in Canada, Currie said.

The one drawback to the variety is the speed with which it must be harvested.

Harvest runs in late September and early October, depending on the region of British Columbia, and that’s it.

The short harvest window deters growers from going overboard on Ambrosia plantings, Currie said — there just aren’t enough hands to pick it in time.

Despite those curbs on production, the Ambrosia is too popular a variety to keep down.

About 450,000 boxes shipped from the province in 2010-11, the most ever, Currie said.

Production could eventually increase to 500,000 boxes.

Perhaps the more important gauge of the variety’s popularity, however, could be how well it has caught on outside the province’s borders, Currie said.

Growers in the U.S., Chile, New Zealand and Europe have been licensed to grow more and more Ambrosias, and the fruit is now reaching consumers around the world.

anelson@thepacker.com

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