Cherry breeders seek improved varieties

04/28/2014 01:20:00 PM
Tom Burfield

“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.”


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