A new factsheet from AHDB
Horticulture summarises the attributes of the main varieties released in the
second tranche of the East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club, as well as details
of promising selections developed during the same period.
Three varieties from the
second tranche (which started in 2013) are in the process of being commercialised.
The late-season June-bearer Malling Allure (EM2157) and the disease resistant
Everbearers Malling Champion (EMR564) and EMR639.
Malling Allure is described
as ‘a robust plant, with moderate vigour in comparison with other late-season
varieties.’ It is 10-12 days later than Elsanta and has fruit quality similar
to Malling Centenary. Malling Champion is ‘an early season Everbearer,
which produces its peak harvest in July and picks steadily through August.’ It
is resistant to crown rot (Phytophthora
cactorum) and wilt (Verticillium
dahliae) and shows moderate resistance to powdery mildew (Podosphaera aphanis), as
Six other selections from
the programme are due to advance to large scale grower trials, including two
June-bearers and four Everbearers. The East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club
(EMSBC) was formed in 2008 to continue the national strawberry programme that
began at East Malling Research in 1983. The second tranche of AHDB-funded work
runs until 2023.
Dutch fruit producer Flevo Berry has released a new mid-season fruiting strawberry that the company says has good tolerance to Phytopthora.
Sonsation is a short day variety, with berries with orange-red, conical berries which are said to resemble Sonata, but with better firmness. According to the company, ‘Sonsation is an easy growing variety producing a compact plant with lovely upturned leafs. Flower trusses are at leaf length and still well protected against spring frost. Flowers have excellent pollen quality ensuring a very well fruit set and fruits are well displayed and very easy to pick.’
Steven Oosterloo, commercial director of Flevo Berry said: “Sonsation fits into our philosophy. In developing new varieties we always look ahead. It can be done differently and it really must be done differently, so for us, flavor and sustainability are at the top of the list. It is a part of the way we think. You can use Sonsation in a variety of growing systems. From normal conditions and cooled environments to cultivation on racks and on substrate in greenhouses. The variety is easy to grow and juicy, making it appropriate for both direct sale and retail.”
Multinational agribusiness Monsanto has invested $125 million in agricultural start-up Pairwise to leverage gene editing technology into fresh produce crops such as strawberries.
According to Business Insider, the two companies will use CRISPR gene editing techniques to develop fruit crops – most likely to be strawberries – within the next five to 10 years, with the benefits expected to be sweeter fruit with a longer shelf life. The website also reported that former Monsanto’s vice president of global biotechnology Tom Adams will become the new CEO of Pairwise.
“Gene editing allows you to address problems that you can’t address with genetic modification and do so faster,” Adams said, adding, “what’s exciting is that it can get into crops that have a smaller footprint than maybe corn and have more opportunities to get into the hands of consumers.”
Haven Baker, the founder and CEO of Pairwise plants, told Business Insider, “We are absolutely targeting things that you’ll be able to see in the produce aisle. And ideally it’ll be benefits you recognize as an average consumer shopping and looking for produce. We want to make specialty crops cheaper more accessible and more affordable.”
According to press reports, ‘record quantities of Scottish strawberries are being sold this summer.’ The sentiment was backed by Michael Jarvis, head of marketing at Albert Bartlett and Scotty Brand, which last year sold nearly 4 million tonnes of the fruit, equivalent to 28 berries a minute.
Scotty Brand strawberries are grown in Perthshire by Bruce Farms. Mr Jarvis commented, “We work very closely with Bruce Farms to ensure our strawberries are tastier, fresher and keep better for longer. It’s fantastic to see customers continuing to opt for locally sourced Scottish produce, and its clear strawberries are the summer fruit of choice.”
Another major Scottish fruit grower, Angus Soft Fruits, has introduced four new AVA varieties of strawberry for this season, as well as two varieties of raspberry. Dave Griffiths, Angus Soft Fruits R&D Director & head breeder, said, “The new varieties are the result of several years of hard work by my team and we look forward to seeing these on retailer shelves this summer.”
Supermarket Sainsbury’s has revealed that during the four months of summer, strawberries are its most popular product, outselling even milk and bread.
The retailer predicts a peak increase in strawberry sales of 700% compared to average levels, accounting for a large part of the 126,000 tonnes of the fruit sold each year in the UK. The retailer also expects to see an increase in sales of sparkling wine and has said that the pairing of Taste the Difference Crémant de Loire with the Murano strawberry.
Sainsbury’s strawberry technician Peter Czarnobaj said, “There’s much more to strawberries than meets the eye and it can take years to develop each variety. What I love about Murano is that it perfectly balances sweetness with acidity as well as having a great shape and depth of colour. We sell more strawberries than any other product for up to 16 weeks so it’s important that our customers can enjoy British-grown strawberries for as long as possible.”
The supermarket claims to offer 18 different varieties of British strawberries throughout the season including Murano, Sonata and Majestic, as well as Elsanta. Murano was first developed for Sainsbury’s in 2014 and is noted for its winning combination of flavour and vibrant colour.
The latest selections from the East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club will be on display to growers at an EMR Association/AHDB Horticulture walk at NIAB East Malling Research on 8 June.
According to organisers, the event represents a great opportunity for growers to experience this year’s most promising performers from the breeding club, with an opportunity to view and taste the most interesting new selections from the programme.
The event will also give growers a chance to provide feedback on the lines and ultimately will help choose which lines move on to commercial release to the industry. In conjunction with project SF 096a, the key aim of the Strawberry Breeding Club is to breed varieties to the highest standard, with overlapping seasons, high yields, high pest and disease resistance and greater picking efficiency to reduce labour costs.
Lancashire will be the first area of the UK to harvest strawberries this year after family run Medlar Fruit Farms has managed to produce an early crop of Driscoll’s Lusa which is expected to be on sale in selected stores from today (28 February).
Tesco believes it will be one of the earliest ever arrivals for Britain’s favourite home-grown fruit, having been helped by a mild winter and the recent warmer temperatures. The greenhouse crop from Medlar will be supplemented next week by the first production from Herefordshire-based S&A Produce.
Tesco’s strawberry buyer Henry Maulik said, “This brilliant but rare opportunity for customers to enjoy English strawberries so early in the year, is great news for shoppers. Helped by the recent warmer temperatures, this is the first time in ages that UK strawberries grown for supermarkets have been picked in February.”
Medlar managing director Steve Bell added, “We’re pleased to have been able to put Lancashire well and truly on the map for strawberries. The Driscoll’s Lusa variety is hugely popular with customers because of their fantastic flavour. We’ve been working with Tesco to extend the British season, so that shoppers can enjoy them for even longer.”
Medlar Fruit Farms expects to produce strawberries right through until the end of the season in November.
A recent report suggests that robots could help UK growers deal with potential labour shortages in the future, but in practice their widespread use may still be some way off.
Published by the Resolution Foundation, a new report suggests that some sectors of the fresh produce industry might consider the use of robots and greater automation, while others will require a carefully considered immigration policy to prevent damaging staff shortages.
Adam Corlett, Economic Analyst at the Resolution Foundation said: “People have long warned about the rise of the job stealing robots, but they haven’t had much effect to date in a country that has record employment and a terrible record on productivity. “For sectors like agriculture, further automation could provide part of the answer to coping with the changed labour market, although it will require a major shift in investment to become a reality.”
The report came as US company Harvest CROO revealed more details of its automated strawberry picker which is in development. “Our biggest differentiator has always been that growers will not have to change the way they currently grow strawberries,” said Gary Wishnatzki, co-founder of Harvest CROO and owner of Wish Farms based in Plant City, FL. “Now, with the patent of the Pitzer Wheel, what I believe to be the heart of the invention, we have another strong distinguishing factor.”
Data released on Friday shows that British strawberry producers are on track to meet a record demand for the fruit this summer as the season enters the iconic Wimbledon fortnight.
Estimates suggest that the UK will produce 74,000 tonnes of strawberries this summer, representing some £564 million. According to statistics strawberries account for just over half of the total UK soft fruit market.
Laurence Olins, Chairman of British Summer Fruits commented, “Berries used to be a luxury item, but now they are a delicious staple, consumed as part of a healthy diet for many people.
“The sales figures reveal a robust and expanding soft fruit category that is meeting growing consumer demand. The berry industry as a whole will continue to expand and as the season begins, consumers can look forward to good quality British berries on supermarket shelves.”
Data from Kantar Worldpanel shows that berry sales in the UK now account for a fifth of total fruit consumption making them more popular than apples and bananas as the popularity of juices and smoothies shows no signs of slowing down.
Strawberries are the most popular soft fruit, with sales last year valued at £564,382 million. They were followed by blueberries (£282,962m) and raspberries (£220,336m). Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits, said, “Berries used to be a luxury item, but now they are a delicious staple, consumed as part of a healthy diet for many people. The sales figures reveal a robust and expanding soft fruit category that is meeting growing consumer demand.”
The figures came as British Summer Fruits predicted a record breaking strawberry harvest this year thanks to ideal spring growing conditions. Up to 74,000 tonnes of the fruit is predicted to be produced over the coming summer. The top retail varieties are Malling Centenary; Elsanta; Sonata; Sweet Eve; Driscoll’s Jubilee; Ava Rosa; Red Glory; and Capri.