Breakthrough for UK blackcurrant growers

The future could be brighter for blackcurrant growers who face an ongoing battle against gall mites after scientists in Scotland discovered a genetic marker linked to a gene that is resistant to the pest.

BioSS, a group of mathematicians and statisticians based at the Scottish Crop Research Institute, announced the discovery at the end of last year at a press conference held by the Scottish Government in Glasgow.

The conference gave the Government a platform to reveal some of the most significant achievements of its rural and environment research programme over the past five years. The genetic marker discovery was an unusual breakthrough for the crop because research had traditionally focused on the genetics that control blackcurrant berry size and health benefits, such as vitamin C and anthocyanins.

BioSS director David Elston told Grower after the press conference: "It's been identified this year, but there is always further research to be done. The idea is to feed what has been discovered into new varieties and that will take many years yet."

Rob Saunders, blackcurrant agronomist for Ribena producer GlaxoSmithKline, which helps fund a significant proportion of the UK's blackcurrant research programme, explained the discovery had the potential to stretch the lifespan of a blackcurrant plantation to that of an apple orchard.

He said: "The reason why blackcurrant plantations only last ten or 12 years is that they get the reversion virus caused by the gall mite. So, if you did not have that, then potentially the blackcurrant could last as long as an apple orchard - 20 or 30 years - and reduce the cost of production.

"However, with the new varieties, there is a long period between the discoveries made in the breeding programme and the commercial availability of those products. It (the marker) also needs to be able to be combined with a whole host of other desirable characteristics. This is very much a discovery for the future."

Scotland also announced that a new project was in progress to study the genetic component of raspberry softening and spoiling in storage. The project, which started last year, is an industry-funded HortLink programme and follows a range of work already carried out by BioSS on raspberries.

MIDGE TRAP RELEASED

A leaf-midge pheromone trap trialled last year by six growers is to be made available to all blackcurrant growers by the spring.

GlaxoSmithKline agronomist Rob Saunders told Grower that although it was difficult to assess the exact effect the trap was having on yields, the Blackcurrant Growers Association meeting in November found that it was a useful tool in integrated pest management programmes.

He added: "Bifenthrin, the chemical widely-used to control the midge, loses its approval next May. These traps are therefore being made available to growers in the spring even though we don't know all the details of how to use them yet, as we are trying to improve our defences."


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