Strawberry club aims to minimise waste

Reducing the vast quantities of fruit that go to waste every year is one of the main aims of the East Malling Research (EMR) Strawberry Breeding Club, the club's project manager Adam Whitehouse has revealed.

Whitehouse - speaking to guests at last week's EMR members' day at the organisation's conference centre in Kent - said that a Waste & Resources Action Programme report published last year found that strawberries are among the most discarded food items.

Some 16,000 tonnes - or £63m of produce - of avoidable strawberry waste is generated in the UK every year. Whitehouse added that waste can be generated at all stages in the supply chain - not just by consumers who may throw away berries that are not sweet enough or that are mouldy.

Growers also generate a lot of waste, which is why it is important to address the problem at the breeding stage and create cultivars with the right requirements.

"If we can produce a suitable product then we can expect to reduce some of the waste," Whitehouse said. "It's the very start of the process."

Whitehouse added that much of the waste generated by growers is from fruit that is the wrong size because supermarkets have such a strict remit as to what they accept.

He said: "The mainstream market still requires only Class 1 fruit, which is classified differently between retailers but usually requires the diameter of fruit to be more than 25mm.

"The fruit also needs to be free from blemishes and rots, be uniform in colour and shape within the punnet and, of course, have an acceptable flavour and texture."

EMR's Strawberry Breeding Club therefore focuses on producing seedlings that are less prone to misshapes and rots and that have an improved fruit size.

Whitehouse revealed that there is a link between the size of the fruit and the number of flowers on a plant's truss.

Berries that have an inferior position on the truss - secondary or tertiary berries, for example - are smaller than the primary berries "so it is desirable to select plants with five to six flowers per truss".

Whitehouse added: "In terms of breeding we are looking to get cultivars with a simple truss to maintain the fruit size. But fewer flowers equals fewer fruit - so it is important to ensure that the plant produces sufficient trusses to maintain a high yield."

Whitehouse also told guests that the majority of mould and rotting incidences are linked to fungal diseases, but these can also be tackled by breeding improvements into the plants' architecture.

Upright habits with long trusses, for example, enable air to circulate around the plant, which can help reduce the risk of powdery mildew (Podosphaera aphanis).

Whitehouse said: "Powdery mildew has become an increasing problem over the years. It is exacerbated by production from everbearing cultivars later in the season and the increasing use of tunnels."

Whitehouse added that breeding resistance to powdery mildew is complicated, but EMR does have cultivars and selections with resistance, such as Emily.

Other cultivars that EMR said can help reduce waste include Sasha, Elegance and Fenella - all of which have a high yield of Class 1 berries - and Finesse, which has good all-round disease resistance.

 

STRAWBERRIES AT EMR

  • Breeding has been carried out since 1983 and has released 28 cultivars since 1988.
  • More than 230 million of these cultivars have been sold worldwide.
  • Since June 2008, EMR's strawberry breeding has been jointly funded by the Strawberry Breeding Club, composed of seven companies including KG Growers and Mack Multiples.

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