How climate change is affecting the breeding process for new cherry varieties

IFG started a cherry breeding program 21 years ago. With California being their home base, the company focuses on breeding cherries suitable for the Southern California climate. This means that they should thrive despite lower winter cold hours and should do well with a greater amount of summer heat. “Through good and bad luck, over the past 21 years we have learned that global warming is a thing,” says Alwyn van Jaarsveld, international cherry business manager at IFG. “California’s climate has gotten hotter and drier, but we’re on the right track in bringing new, adaptable varieties to market.”

Left: Alwyn van Jaarsveld. Right: Cheery Glow™ variety.

Uninterrupted Supply Window
In addition to breeding for low cold and warm weather, IFG is also looking to bring novelty to the cherry category in color, size, shape and market window. This season, California has seen bouts of rain in late spring, closer to the start of harvest. These rains had a negative impact on quality as the water remains on the fruit and causes the cherries to crack and split. “We select varieties with a different shape that prevents water drops from hanging off the end of the stem.” The timing of maturity is another key trait of a new variety. In an ideal situation, the transition from one growing region to another is smooth, so that consumers can enjoy cherries without interruption and do not have to switch to other fruits. “This year, cherry harvest time in California was where it needed to be, but sugar levels in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia have been rising very slowly due to cold weather. It created a supply gap, which has a huge impact,” van Jaarsveld said. “Cherries are a cyclical product for retailers, and take about six weeks to reach full sales. If there is a supply disruption during those six weeks, a shipper falls back to week zero and must rebuild sales from there.

Cheery Treat™ variety.

New consistent and adaptable varieties
Breeding a new variety takes time and it takes even longer to see results in commercial production. IFG produces about 6,000 plants a year, but so far only 10 varieties have been released. “We are very careful about what we like,” van Jaarsveld explained.

IFG Cher-ten is a new sweet cherry variety and one of van Jaarsveld’s favourites. “It’s a heart-shaped red cherry with an early harvest window. In addition, this vigorous variety adapts to various climatic conditions and survives the rain. Production results have been very consistent.

Another new cherry variety that is being tested and grown commercially in California and the Pacific Northwest is Cheery Glow™. It is a yellow variety with red cheeks like Rainier. However, it precedes Rainier by about 7 to 14 days. “It’s great to have an early variety followed by a slightly later one to extend the length of the season.” Cheery Glow™ was planted commercially approximately one to two years ago. Since cherry trees take about four years to fruit commercially, it will take a few more years before they hit store shelves.

Variety Cher-ten from IFG.

“While Cheery Glow™ is not yet commercially available, it is good to have discussions with retailers about what to expect in a few years,” van Jaarsveld commented. It takes a long time to select an appropriate variety and it is important to market it in the right way. “If it’s not marketed properly, it can take another 5-6 years to get a second chance – if you’re lucky.”

USA is perfect for fruit farming
“The USA is the perfect Petri dish for growing cherries and fruit in general,” van Jaarsveld said. He spoke about the climate of California, but also the wonderful opportunities available to him to market the fruit. “A wealthy population eager for novelties and consumers accustomed to facing marketing.” However, outside of North America, IFG takes cherries to places where they haven’t grown yet. These regions include northern Victoria in Australia, but also China, South Africa and the northern 4th region of Chile. This growing region of northern Chile has an earlier production window due to its proximity to the equator. “With 95% of Chile’s cherries exported to China, it pays to grow, pick and ship the cherries early for Chinese New Year. »

IFG Cheery Cherry trading blocks in the Chilean Central Valley.

IFG looks forward to continuing to market cherries with sensational effect. “We breed for excitement and adaptability, because what’s the point of breeding more of the same,” Jaarsveld concluded.

For more information:
Alwyn van Jaarsveld
[email protected]