Fresh funds for cherry breeding

East Malling Research's (EMR's) cherry-breeding programme, for which Defra funding runs out next spring, could be saved by industry-raised cash.

Thanks to a decision made at a meeting at EMR last week (17 September), 20 or more growers and marketing organisation and retailer representatives have agreed to establish a company that will invest in the programme.

Dr Colin Gutteridge, the station's director, said that the next step is to prepare a prospectus for the proposed company and to seek the necessary funding.

"There was a great deal of enthusiasm (at the meeting) for forming a cherry-breeding company to take cherry breeding and the commercialisation of new varieties forward," he said. "There's a good chance of getting the required funding because a number of big players (in particular) recognise that the cherry sector has good prospects for growth, and there are relatively few breeding programmes in the world.

"The funding might not all come from the UK because our industry is quite small," he added. "There is interest (in investing in the company) from overseas ... Spain, Chile Australia and North America."

Gutteridge said he was fairly confident that the cherry industry (both in the UK and overseas) will raise enough money to keep the EMR programme going.

However, he doubted whether growers would be able to make a useful financial contribution unless six or more clubbed together to buy a shareholding in the new company.

He anticipated that the breeding programme would only be self-funding from royalties in the very long term - something that is understood by the prospective investors. But they are all keen to generate income from the new varieties produced by the programme.

All but one of the new English varieties launched in recent years have come from the John Innes programme that preceded EMR's, run by Ken Tobutt.

Although Tobutt's programme has so far introduced just one variety, Penny, several more will be introduced over the next three or four years, assuming the new company gets off the ground.

"The programme has been sort of focused on producing late black varieties but there is other material in the pipeline," said Gutteridge. "Defra will give EMR the rights to exploit its intellectual property, and that's what we'll put into the new vehicle."


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