Re­search nets new ten­der fruit

Univer­sity of Guelph pro­fes­sor Jayasankar Subra­ma­nian de­vel­ops new plum, peach for On­tario grow­ers

The Woolwich Observer - - VENTURE - FAISAL ALI

FRUIT BREED­ING IS A pon­der­ous process, a sci­ence span­ning decades to pro­cure the per­fect seedling to bring to mar­ket. For Jayasankar Subra­ma­nian of the Univer­sity of Guelph, that mo­ment has ar­rived with the cre­ation of two new va­ri­eties of Ja­panese plums and two of early peaches, which are ex­pected to be in the mar­ket for grow­ers shortly.

The end re­sult is the cul­mi­na­tion of 18 years of re­search and test­ing to pro­duce vi­able crops that pro­duc­ers and con­sumers alike will de­mand. The crop has to be de­pend­able and re­silient for farm­ers to add to their fields, long-last­ing and tough to sur­vive days or even weeks of trans­port, and suc­cu­lent and de­li­cious enough, of course, for the end con­sumer to ac­tu­ally pur­chase. Subra­ma­nian be­lieves he has bred just such a prod­uct.

“We started looking through (the seedlings),” he says, which were first planted by his pre­de­ces­sor at the univer­sity in 1999. “And we fil­tered out from about 800 such seedlings, and we came out with a hand­ful – like six or seven – that are of in­ter­est to the grow­ers. And of those six seven, these two are the prime ma­te­rial that will be re­leased.”

But for Subra­ma­nian, a plant agri­cul­ture pro­fes­sor and re­searcher at the univer­sity’s fruit-breed­ing fa­cil­i­ties, at 18 years, the de­vel­op­ment cy­cle for these fruit was ac­tu­ally fairly quick.

It can take be­tween five to 10 years just for a seed to fruit; an­other three to five for clean­ing, where the seeds are in­spected and scrubbed for pos­si­ble dis­eases; and an­other four to six to mul­ti­ply a vi­able seed for mar­ket. As a whole, the process can typ­i­cally take 20 to 35 years or even more.

Subra­ma­nian’s plum va­ri­eties have been se­lec­tively bred to be far less sus­cep­ti­ble to com­mon dis­eases plagu­ing the con­ven­tional va­ri­eties like black knot, as well as eas­ier to trans­port. Reg­u­lar plums have a prob­lem of los­ing their colour and be­com­ing translu­cent and oily af­ter a week or so in stor­age, which de­stroys their mar­ket value,

“Our va­ri­eties are in ev­ery as­pect pretty much sim­i­lar to the ex­ist­ing plums, but the only thing is it is much larger and it stays opaque even af­ter two or three weeks of stor­age, and it is a lot more re­sis­tant to black knot than the ex­ist­ing va­ri­ety.”

The peaches too, have been im­proved, though in a dif­fer­ent way. Subra­ma­nian’s breed are de­signed for an early har­vest so that the fruit can com­pete with its Amer­i­can cousins, which are har­vested ear­lier. By pulling back the har­vest date, On­tario farm­ers can have a shot

of get­ting their peaches to gro­cery stores at the same time as U.S. peaches.

“The main thing they look for is a good va­ri­ety that will come early in the mar­ket. The rea­son for that is typ­i­cally we get ours first from the U.S. be­cause they are in the south­ern lat­i­tude so they flower. See our peaches flower only in May whereas their peaches ... might flower in late Fe­bru­ary or early March.” To make up for the de­lay, Cana­di­ans need to find ways to get their peaches to mar­ket faster.

But af­ter years of care­ful crafts­man­ship, Subra­ma­nian is an­tic­i­pat­ing see­ing his cre­ations in the su­per­mar­kets.

“When I see my va­ri­eties out in the mar­ket shelf, there is no equal to it. That is the ul­ti­mate feel­ing for a breeder. Es­pe­cially if you just go in as a con­sumer, walk in the mar­ket and you see your va­ri­eties on the shelf, and peo­ple say good things about your va­ri­ety. That’s like your child win­ning a big prize at a na­tional level, or some­thing like that,” he says.

Jayasankar Subra­ma­nian, pro­fes­sor of plant agri­cul­ture with the Univer­sity of Guelph.

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