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Pluots®, Apriums®, Peacotums® and Nectaplums® are just a few of the delicious things that we have Floyd Zaiger, the founder of Zaiger Genetics Inc., to thank for. In the world of genetically modified plants and crops I know I am naturally hesitant when I look at a variety developed by a company with “genetics” in its name, but the more I read about the Zaiger Genetics Inc. the more I am impressed.
The Zaiger family (the business is still family owned and operated) made it their mission to improve fruit worldwide. And improve it they do; without resort to any genetic manipulation. They painstakingly hand pollinate. They cross and recross the selections carefully recording each cross made and tracking pedigrees meticulously. This is no instant gratification trade as it takes each generation three years to mature. According to Lieth Gardner (Floyd Zaiger’s daughter) it can take on average 12 to 15 years to develop a new variety, and as many as 20 years to develop a new species. In fact the brand new Peacotum® took 30 years! So far the Zaiger holds something in the neighborhood of 200 patents for their fruit varieties. Floyd Zaiger is the most prolific fruit breeder of the modern era. You find his trees from New Zealand to Europe, in fact he was made an Officier in the Order du Merit Agricole by the French government in 1997.
Zaiger has been about flavor for decades when the rest of the fruit breeding industry was worried about appearance. The proof is in the Pluot®. Running an eye over Dave Wilson Nursery’s taste test winners for 2010 I was unsurprised to see it dominated by Zaiger varieties. Although the Zaigers have not forgotten other important characteristics. They also breed for disease resistance and the ability of fruit to hold well during shipment and they have not only improved fruit, but rootstocks as well. Zaiger rootstocks such as Citation, Viking, and Atlas are all complex hybrids of apricot, peach, almond and plum. Citation has become the standard rootstock for plums and peaches
So how did this all start? Floyd Zaiger graduated from University of California at Davis and while teaching in Modesto worked an internship with Fred Anderson, the “father of the nectarine” and has been breeding fruit ever since. His first patented varieties were the Royal Gold Peach and the Crimson Gold Nectarine. From that humble beginning he and his children have gone on to revolutionize the way we think of stone fruits and backyard orchard culture. From low-chill cherries to genetic dwarf almonds. So when you bite into a Pluot® this summer and experience that characteristic burst of complex flavor remember the years of of hard work and Floyd Zaiger. I call it genetics done right.