Breeders always are looking for a bigger, better, sweeter cherry, but in Southern California, where timing is everything, earliness of the fruit is a prime concern.
BQ Genetics, Le Grand, Calif., develops varieties for Warmerdam Packing LP, Hanford, Calif., said Glen Bradford, a partner in BQ Genetics.
The company typically sees 3,000 hybrids per year that have potential for producing new varieties, he said.
It was BQ Genetics that developed the tulare and Sequoia varieties.
Warmerdam will start production of what BQ has named the Arvin Glen in 2015, said Maurice Cameron, sales manager for Warmerdam’s sales arm, Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC in Hanford. However, the company likely will market the variety under a different name.
Arvin Glen grows well in low-chill regions, like the Arvin area in the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley. It’s about the same size as the bing cherry, though it comes off two weeks earlier, Bradford said.
The timing of the early fruit is important to growers because early cherries can open at $200 per box, then quickly drop to $100, $80 then to $60 as volume picks up and the fruit becomes more plentiful, he said.
Zaiger’s Genetics, Modesto, Calif., has developed seven commercial cherry varieties, said Leith Gardner, daughter of founder Floyd Zaiger.
Flavor, shelf life, appearance, firmness, rain tolerance and ability to ship well are some of the characteristics the company breeds for.
Climatic conditions have been changing, Zaiger said, and she’s heard that some growers are not getting the sets they used to get with the bing.
That could be caused by lack of chill hours and hot, dry weather accompanied by too much wind.
She believes progress is being made developing varieties that can adapt to these conditions.
“I’ve had good reports back on the Royal Lynn and the Royal Hazel,” she said.
Those varieties consistently set the crop growers want year after year, she said.
Though breeders often sell their varieties by name, retailers usually market them to consumers simply as sweet, red cherries, she added.
International Fruit Genetics, Bakersfield, Calif., has some numbered selections the company hopes to launch next year, said David Cain, general manager.
One — 28-148 — ripens about the same time as brooks, but it is much larger than brooks and has darker red flesh. The flavor is similar.
Another — 31-105 — comes on earlier than brooks.
“It’s not the firmest cherry in the world, but it’s earlier,” Cain said.
“We can treat it with gibberellins and get it to firm up enough where it’s going to be good shipping cherry,” he said.
The 31-105 comes off four to five days ahead of brooks, it requires fewer chill hours, and it offers more consistent cropping, Cain said.
Lack of chill hours “is a big issue with the current cherries in this (southern) end of the valley,” he said.
In years with insufficient chill hours, brooks may only produce a partial crop, he said.
“It’s important to find types that will have a full crop of fruit every year.”
Another potential variety for next year – 22-40 – is a lower-chill cherry that ripens a bit ahead of brooks and has a darker color, he said.
Breeders constantly seek varieties that are rain resistant, since rain that comes during the ripening process can cause serious damage to a cherry crop just before harvest.
But some say it’s not likely that much can be done to combat lack of rain, since cherries require a certain amount of water and nutrients to thrive, and a drought-resistant cherry might be too small to be marketed successfully.
“There’s no reason for us to try to breed drought-tolerant varieties,” Bradford said. “That would be taking a giant step backwards.”
The solution, he said, is increased water storage capacity.
“If we don’t get some water storage built in California, there will be a serious problem,” he said. “On the wet years, we don’t have enough dams to hold all the water we lose.”
Cain said not much research is being done in the southern San Joaquin Valley on drought-resistant cherry root stocks or heat tolerance.
“Unfortunately, most of the cherry research work gets done in cooler climates, like Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Germany,” he said.
Such studies might fall under the realm of major universities or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he said.
“That’s a pretty long-term research project.”