As part of the initiatives carried out within the Nursery Show – Plant Nursery Area of ​​Macfrut 2024events coordinated by Stefano Luglithe SOI (Italian Horticultural and Fruit Growing Society) and CIVI Italia (Interprofessional Center for Nursery Activities) organized a panel discussionby title “QVI – Voluntary certification of Italian fruit nurseries: promotional tool or brake for the qualification of nursery production?”. At the center of the focus is QVI-Italian nursery quality, the level of voluntary certification of the plant propagation material of fruit plants produced in Italy, in relation to patents with a view to growth and valorisation of national production chains.

The meeting was moderated by Stefano La Malfa, professor of general arboriculture and tree cultivation at the University of Catania and president of the fruit growing section of the SOI. In introducing the work, La Malfa focused on the role of nursery industry, clarifying how, right from the title, the workshop had the objective of highlighting the potential that the organized Italian and European nursery sector expresses to the advantage of the fruit sector and how the voluntary certification, and in particular the QVI (Qualità Vivaistica Italia) brand, owned by Masaf, represents a further element of guarantee to protect entrepreneurs in the sector. Malfa clarified that the production sector has highlighted the need for the inclusion in the QVI certification programs of those varietal innovations for which the procedures for obtaining patent rights are underway.

Following the interventions of Domenico Consalvo and Luigi Catalano, respectively President and Director of CIVI-Italia. Both highlighted how innovation in the professional fruit nursery sector is synonymous with the genetic-health certification of nursery production and the protection of varietal innovations through the community procedures provided for by the CPVO (Community Office of Plant Varieties). These are the most powerful levers for the nursery sector, which also contribute to defining the professionalism of its operators.

“The national voluntary certification scheme QVI (Qualità Vivaistica Italia) includes the registration of 1747 variety accessions which represent the basis for the development of the varieties thus qualified. Of these, less than 10% represent varieties subject to PBR (patents and rights). The consequence is that varietal innovation and qualification paths through voluntary QVI certification seem to be poorly reconciled with each other. This is especially true for stone fruit – peaches, nectarines, cherries and apricots – which present rapid varietal renewal thanks to new genotypes created by the many breeding programs operating at an international level. The apple tree registers major critical issues, where the evaluation stations of the CPVO network have long delays in examining genotypes which instead show clear phenotypic differences in the environments where they were selected. The production of strawberry seedlings differs from this trend and essentially qualifies for the highest direct rate for almost all of the national production”.

A central theme, therefore, remains the speed of evaluation processes. “The numbers of QVI certified productions would certainly be much greater if the varietal innovations proposed for community patent rights had a quicker evaluation process, also with the aid of biomolecular tests available today. The varieties for which DUS (Distinguishability, Uniformity and Stability) tests have not yet been completed, even if their phytosanitary status fully complies with the certification schemes, cannot be so qualified. The current community legislation provides for qualification through the certification scheme paths only for the varieties registered in the official registers, including those that have obtained national and/or community property rights. A legislative intervention in this sense and a reorganization of the stations that carry out DUS tests should be envisaged to give strength and impetus to voluntary certification programs, also as a tool for the prevention and spread of dangerous harmful agents that are transmitted with plant propagation materials” .

From a European perspective it was the intervention of Francesco Mattina, President of CPVO (Community Office of Plant Varieties). “The nursery quality system plays a fundamental role in the fruit sector, in particular for varieties protected by variety rights at community level. This system guarantees that the plants produced and distributed are of high quality, healthy and comply with the required varietal characteristics, which is crucial to maintaining the trust of producers and end consumers. In particular, an efficient system has the merit of ensuring that the plants distributed are actually of the declared variety, avoiding fraud and guaranteeing genetic purity. It ensures that plants are healthy and free from pathogens, reducing the risk of diseases that could compromise entire crops on a large scale; provides a uniform quality standard that nurseries must meet, ensuring consistent and reliable plant production, and contributes to the economic sustainability of the sector, as producers can count on plants that will produce consistently high quality fruit, improving farmers’ profitability . Varieties protected by variety rights are subject to specific intellectual property rights. This type of protection guarantees the breeders of new plant varieties the exclusive right of commercial exploitation for a fixed period of time, encouraging innovation and research in the agricultural sector”.

Mattina then makes a proposal on the recognizability of protected varieties. “It would be desirable to adopt a symbol of recognition for varieties protected by variety rights, similarly to what happens for trademarks and copyright. Such a symbol could make varieties protected by variety rights immediately recognisable, helping farmers, distributors and consumers to easily identify them. Furthermore, it could help strengthen the legal protection of plant varieties, making the enforcement of plant variety rights and the fight against infringements less complicated. It would also increase the perceived value of protected plant varieties, contributing to a greater appreciation of the intense research and development work carried out to create them. This activity is in fact highly expensive and requires huge investments in research and development programs. Lastly, associating the symbol with a concept of quality and reliability would help improve the reputation of the fruit sector and the products resulting from it”.

These are Mattina’s conclusions. “The nursery quality system is essential for the fruit sector, in particular for plant varieties protected by variety rights. The adoption of a specific recognition symbol for these varieties would not only better protect the rights of breeders, but would also contribute to greater transparency and trust in the market, while promoting investment in innovation and quality in the sector.”

He spoke about the activity of Masaf (Ministry of Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forestry). Bruno Carlo Faraglia Director of DISIR V Vegetable Production. “With the QVI the administration decided to strengthen the high quality of the propagation materials produced within the national voluntary certification scheme. The possibilities suggested and feared by Mattina of putting references to the CPVO for protected varieties on the certified labels would give further value and prestige to Italian productions. Aware that the use of protected varieties is very important for the competitiveness of the entire sector, the Ministry has defined the testing centers at national level for DUS tests, at organized institutions with great experience in varietal evaluations of the different species. These institutions could also apply as test centers for the CPVO as well. Masaf’s attention and commitment towards these issues is always high, thanks also to the continuous and constant relationship with stakeholders”.

To close the interventions Davide Vernocchi, President of ApoConerpo. “Manufacturers have always paid attention to the quality of propagation materials. Producing good and beautiful fruit is the best lever for the competitiveness of Italian fruit supply chains. Evidence of this aspect is the participation in the Civi-Italia interprofession. The fruit supply chains, as amply demonstrated, look favorably on productions which, in addition to the genetic health guarantees typical of voluntary certification, also concern varieties that allow segmentation on the market for a better valorisation of production, also in consideration of climate change”.