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Thursday, 15 July 2021 17:55

The history of growing fruit

Written by  Chris Owens
Plant breeder Chris Owens says expect more developments during the next 20 years. Plant breeder Chris Owens says expect more developments during the next 20 years.

The fruit industry has dramatically changed over the last 20 years.

IFG (International Fruit Genetics) showed that a table grape could be so much more, providing a new and interesting consumer experience with the Cotton Candy grape. During the past 20 years, there has been a steady increase in the growth of proprietary fruit breeding programs and we have been very successful by placing a greater emphasis on consumer acceptance of our new varieties.

How has fruit breeding changed?

Taking the table grape and making it not just an option at the store, but something that consumers seek out is a huge change in the industry.

Until recently, most grape varieties were created with public funding and supported by universities and government agencies. There was little variety beyond the three main colours, and grapes were primarily bred for appearance or the ability to be stored for long periods of time.

However, as consumer demand is changing with more sophisticated palates seekign out unique flavours, textures and experiences, the industry is undergoing a gradual shift to more proprietary programs and varieties. There have also been some major technological advanes in the last 20 years that allow plant breeders to develop new varieties of fruit more quickly.

Recent developments in table grapes and cherries

One of the interesting things that's happened over the last 20 years is that IPG has increasingly placed the emphasis on breeding for consumer traits.

This is a trend that is likely to continue for table grapes and other agricultural products. With the introduction for the Cotton Candy grape, we created a grape that was recognisable by name and taste. There's a lot going on behind the scenes through the breeding process that leads to new varieties becoming available. These breeding advancements will have a great effect on the industry.

However, it's a slow process as grapes and cherries are woody plants that take several years to come into bearing. There are several stages of testing, and each requires starting with young plants that you need to wait to bear fruit.

It can take up to 20 years, at the fastest, for a new grape variety to be bred from scratch.

As the planet gets warmera and the population grows, this could potentially lead to food shortages. Plant breeders have a responsibility to do what we can to breed plants that not only taste great but can withstand greater environmental stress and a changing climate.

This means we're looking to breed plans that can withstand temperature extremes, prolonged periods of drought, unexpected rainfall and have improved disease resistance to reduce pesticide use and can be grown throughout the year.

The future of fruit breeding

The past 20 years have brought incredible advances and changes to the table grape and cherry industries.

The horticulture industry should expect to see more changes in the future, with many technological advances, such as increased use of mechanisation and robotics. We should also expect to see new varieties for those settings, particularly the possibility of a stem-free cherry, which would make mechanised harvesting much easier.

About Chris Owens

Dr Chris Owens has been with IFG since 2016 and is the lead plant breeder, directing the development of improved varieties of table grapes and sweet cherries. He also directs IFG's research and development efforts supporting the breeding program. He holds a BS in horticulture from the University of Maryland, an MS in pomology from Cornell University, and a PhD in plant breeding & genetics from Michigan State University.

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