Whether they’re adding some pizazz to a pavlova or a “ripple” to vanilla ice cream, raspberries brighten up many a dish. Consumers are devouring more and more of these little jewels – see Produce Business UK’s October 2015 report on Britain’s berry boom – yet the market’s fast pace of evolution means the industry cannot afford to be complacent. Formed this autumn, the new Rubus Breeding Consortium Agreement therefore aims to create a treasure chest of new raspberry varieties for consumers and the home (amateur) gardener. Produce Business UK finds out what the new range will have to offer
An international reach
Worth nearly £400,000, the new five-year agreement is helping to continue East Malling Research (EMR)’s raspberry breeding tradition, whose longevity is perhaps largely thanks to the industry’s steadfast support.
Alongside East Malling Services (the commercial division of EMR), Kent-based soft fruit producer WB Chambers, Swiss garden plant suppliers Lubera and Spanish fruit producer organisation Onubafruit make up the members of the new Rubus Breeding Consortium.
EMR’s head of communications Ross Newham explains that the group’s pan-European membership will better enable it to provide a year-round supply of products to satisfy consumer demand.
“East Malling is breeding varieties with international application [as] the expectation of consumers is to have supply throughout the calendar,” he says. “To meet this expectation, the Rubus Breeding Consortium is engaging with a range of international partners to take varieties forward.”
The group therefore welcomes the prospect of support from fresh produce buyers and other members of the industry to add value to the programme. “We are in dialogue with others that have an interest in joining the consortium and we are very interested in expanding membership where this aligns with the commercial rationale,” Newham explains.
Roger Carline, EMS managing director, who masterminded the agreement, suggests that the group’s expertise could even be extended to some of the UK’s other popular soft fruits. “[We would] welcome the possibility of expanding the consortium’s remit to other berry crops (such as blackberries) and other territories, with new partners welcome to join over the next year,” he notes.
Fresh produce buyers on the lookout for new products will be pleased to learn that the first releases under this new agreement are likely to reach the market as early as 2017. They are, says Newham, expected to be two new primocane cultivars of “outstanding fruit quality” as well as two amateur varieties – one dwarf variety for container growing and a purple-fruited autumn berry.
Chairman of the new consortium Tim Chambers, whose family business WB Chambers grows some 85 hectares of raspberries every year, adds: “Breeding new varieties is a long-term game, so we are delighted to be taking forward the vision that the East Malling breeders had one, two and even three decades ago.
“The genetic resources available to the new breeding programme will see both improved ‘traditional’ varieties being released, as well as a number of varieties with very novel characteristics. These are, indeed, very exciting times.”
Newham adds that some of the most promising selections that are currently in the latter stages of trialling include varieties with excellent eating quality and shelf-life. He adds: “Financial sustainability for the grower – such as producing fruit with a larger berry size to reduce harvesting costs and improved pest and disease resistance to reduce inputs in production – is also a key objective of the programme.”
Other material being developed includes a range of novel, coloured fruit and a host of flavours to diversify the offer available to consumers, according to Newham.
Continuing a tradition
Fittingly, the new Rubus Breeding Consortium Agreement was signed at the Kent-based horticultural research station, EMR, which first started breeding much-loved raspberries nearly a century ago, back in the 1920s.
Despite the fact that its government funding ended in 2008, EMR’s raspberry breeding programme has successfully continued. Since then, the research centre’s raspberry breeding tradition has kept calm and carried on thanks to EMR, the East Malling Trust and Lubera.
The centre’s programme is one of the oldest of its kind in the world and is perhaps best known for its pioneering primocane varieties. As Newham explains, these autumn-fruiting varieties played a pivotal role in the extension of the raspberry season.
He says: “Amongst many historically successful varieties is Autumn Bliss – an exceptionally early-ripening primocane type that enabled UK growers to produce fruit from August to October in the open field in the 1980s.”
Other well-known varieties from East Malling’s raspberry breeding portfolio include: Leo, Octavia, Malling Delight and, most-recently, the quirky, apricot-coloured Autumn Amber.
The flurry of continued breeding activity, combined with adequate support, should ensure that raspberries – be they magenta, amber or purple – will brighten even more plates in the years to come.