Gonzalo Espinoza wakes up when the roosters crow. He says goodbye to Susi, his wife, turns on the engine of his white van, leaves the city of Curico and goes to his fields in the sector Glassy Water, where he has 23 hectares of cherry crops and 14 hectares of kiwis. Twelve of those hectares are planted with the Hayward variety. The other two hectares have 70 plants of Cristal, a variety that Espinoza discovered, reproduced and registered in the SAG; Chile’s first kiwi variety.
When Espinoza finished middle school in Curico, he traveled to Santiago to study Industrial Mechanics, a career he did not finish. He felt his calling was agriculture and returned to the area.
By that time, the kiwi was beginning to gain strength in Chile and the farmer decided to plant this fruit. In 1983 he imported Hayward kiwi plants from New Zealand and planted them in Aguas Cristalinas.
He said he had a small plantation, but that business was good because, back then, prices were high.
One day, as he was walking his fields, Espinoza found a kiwi plant that was completely different from the other plants. He could tell at once that it wasn’t of the Hayward variety.
The plant’s trunk looked like a male plant, the leaf stalks had a reddish hue, while the ones of the Hayward variety are greener.
The fruit was also different, it was heavier and its green color was creamier than the one he had cultivated for over twenty years.
There was no explanation as to how this variety had appeared, as all his plants had been propagated from cuttings, were grafted and couldn’t be pollinated.
So he attributed it to a mutation and devoted himself to taking care of this mother plant.
“I did not think about uprooting it, as I saw in it some new possibilities. It seemed interesting enough to take care of it. Its shape and taste were very attractive,” he says. Additionally, since it’s fruit is heavier, it produces twice as much as other varieties and its flavor is sweet and aromatic.
So he decided to replicate it. To do this, he uprooted the plants around it and pooled the material to create seventy offsprings, which are already productive.
He did all this work by himself and in secret. The only ones who knew what he was doing were his wife and his six children.
A new variety for Chile
In 2015, Lynda Hawef, a producer of kiwis from New Zealand arrived in Curico. Espinoza received her at his field office which overlooks the valley where he grows cherries.
After nearly two hours of exchanging ideas, Lynda got up from her chair and walked to the back of the office. There, she found the harvest of the new Cristal kiwi variety packed in black boxes. She was so surprised by it that she asked Gonzalo if she could take a picture with the kiwi and insisted that he register it in Chile as a new variety to protect it.
Up until that moment, the farmer said, he had never thought about registering the fruit. However, after having spoken with Lynda, he decided to do so. Next day he went to the SAG in Curico to inquire about the process. With that information he began filling out the documents he would then present at the SAG headquarters in Santiago.
The registration process at the SAG began in 2015. In turn, the state agency sent the information he gave them describing the plant’s history, its phenology, and fruit to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) in Geneva. There he named the new variety as Cristal. He delivered the document on December 22, 2015 and the SAG approved Cristal and registered it as a protected Chilean variety in 2016. That means that no farmer can duplicate it without authorization in the next four years.
If, after four years, he wants to extend its protection, the SAG will have to make the process before the UPOV, which, if accepted, would extend its protection for 18 years.
The long road ahead
Even though the variety is already protected, there still is a lot of work to be done, Espinoza said.
The first challenge is reproducing the plant so it can be marketed. To do so, Espinoza has been talking with a nursery to see about the most efficient method of multiplying the plants. They would do it in vitro, i.e. the nursery would multiply the kiwi in a gel base solution, which would allow them to clone the plant and get up to a thousand new plants.
Another issue is the plant’s health. Kiwis suffer from bacterial blight. Therefore, before marketing this variety, Espinoza has to perform tests to see if this variety is resistant to the disease. If it is, Espinoza hopes to have 10 hectares of the protected variety in 2018.
Marketing still isn’t a problem, as his production is still small. However, since he expects his production will increase, the farmer is already sending tastings to various countries. In fact, Espinoza said the fruit had had a very positive reception in Brazil and Korea, among other countries.
His goal is to make shipments to Europe, the US, and, why not, New Zealand in the future.
Apart from making exports, Espinoza says that one of his objectives to change the producers’ reality with this new variety. It recent years, kiwi has been losing value, going from US $3 per kilo in the 80s to 30 to 50 cents these days, making kiwi cultivation an unattractive business.
“I want this kiwi to be profitable, so that farmers set prices,” said Espinoza. (Translated from: El Mercurio)