Polytunnel growing improves raspberries

Raspberries grown in polytunnels are bigger and tastier than those grown out-of-doors, scientists at the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) have claimed.

Comparisons between raspberries from the field and those grown in polytunnels were made on fruit grown at SCRI in Invergowrie, and at Blairgowrie in Scotland's "fruit belt".

The berries' weight, colour, sweetness, sourness and flavour intensity were all tested and the results showed "without exception" that the taste (in terms of sensory perceptions of sweetness and flavour intensity) was significantly higher in fruit grown under plastic protection.

Size was also significantly increased in the case of soft fruit grown under cover.

SCRI's Dr Julie Graham, leading the project, said: "New production methods, particularly growing under plastic protection, offer opportunities for season extension and improved quality of produce. And yet still only six per cent of consumers in the UK eat fresh raspberries in any given season.

"Clearly, there is still room for major expansion of sales, provided the industry can grow the kind of fruit consumers want.

"The barriers seem to be disappointment with the flavour, unattractive fruit and the short season of availability of the best-quality fruit. What consumers - and, therefore, everyone else in the supply chain - are looking for is raspberries with sweetness, flavour intensity and good fruit size and colour."

The research is being funded by the HDC and the Scottish Government under the HortLINK collaborative research scheme with the aim of creating a raspberry breeding programme that will help further expand the UK fresh raspberry market - which is currently valued at more than £50m.

The scientists have used consumer tasting panels to assist their work, as well as high-tech genetic mapping and marking techniques.

Their aim is to develop new, high-quality raspberry cultivars that are well-adapted to modern production techniques and naturally resistant to disease - therefore requiring fewer pesticides.

Dr Graham said: "The challenge for plant breeders is to produce varieties with desirable sensory characteristics, using non-controversial techniques that can speed up the selection process and enable growers to more quickly meet consumer demands and so expand the market."

She added that a genetic map of the raspberry, developed at SCRI and refined in a recent HortLINK project for root rot resistance, could offer such a technique.

"Using the linkage groups that have been identified, it will be possible to establish the genetic basis of desirable fruit quality traits. And using molecular markers, it will be possible to screen for these traits without going through the lengthy and very expensive process of field selection of progeny from breeding programmes."

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