The EMR Strawberry Breeding Programme has enjoyed increasing success in its development of new varieties for the soft-fruit industry. First introduced to the market in 2013, following its initial selection in 2005, Malling Centenary is in demand from growers and the major international retailers due to its very high percentage of Class I fruit and reduced picking costs. It has exceeded annual sales of 60 million plants thanks to the increasing confidence and unique qualities of this popular variety. It also scores highly in independent consumer tasting trials when compared to the previous industry standard – Elsanta.
At the recent NIAB EMR Strawberry Growers Walk, Adam Whitehouse, who manages the East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club, presented some of the newest selections from the programme. He also outlined some of the changes being introduced within the programme. Since it started in 1983, seedlings for selection in the EMR programme have been grown in soil, but from 2020 the breeding club has decided to move this phase to substrate growing in line with industry practice, with the 2019 selections being divided between growing in soil and substrate as a transition year. A new permanent substrate growing area is being developed near to the main centre which will be based on the growing system used in the EMR WET Centre by the East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club.
In other developments, the Strawberry Breeding Club members have decided to add agronomy development at the latter stages to the programme to enable newly named selections to be released with more guidance to growers on how best to use them. Adam Whitehouse said that further developments arose following the end of a programme of research on crown rot and red core last year which now allows the screening of all strawberry breeding lines to be introduced, to identify resistance.
The consistency of high fruit quality across the selections shown to growers at the Strawberry Growers Walk was striking, with some of the differences offering the potential to offer a wider range to consumers. Taste, always a slightly difficult trait to develop, also presented a range of options, although the novel ‘pear drop’ taste of one selection may not suit everyone. Score sheets and comments made by growers will give the strawberry team help in guiding the selection process.
Growers more generally will have the opportunity to learn more about the East Malling Strawberry Breeding Club at Fruit Focus when two new varieties will be released – a new early season everbearer – Champion – with good disease resistance and Allure, a late season June-bearing variety with similar high quality attributes to Malling Centenary.