Horticulture Week Business Award - Best New Edible Crop Variety

Winner - AVA Star, Angus Soft Fruits

Image: Angus Soft Fruits
Image: Angus Soft Fruits

AVA Star is an exceptionally flavoured, day-neutral strawberry variety bred by Angus Innovate, the research and development division of Angus Soft Fruits, a leading supplier of berries to UK and European retailers. It was selected in September 2016 for commercial production in the summer of 2017.

Angus Innovate breeds new varieties of strawberries, raspberries and blackberries with the aim of bringing selections to the market that have improved flavour, appearance, shelf life, disease resistance and yield than current varieties. In 2003, it released the AVA strawberry variety, which was the first strawberry grown in the UK to be sold into premium lines.

Before breeding AVA Star, Angus Innovate set out to achieve a more reliable variety than farmers were previously growing, with as many key characteristics as possible — extended season, good-quality fruit, disease resistance, low picking costs and preferred status by retailers.

Using carefully selected parent plants, AVA Star continuously produced good-quality fruit that has extended picking by up to a month. Fruit quality was continuously monitored throughout the season and demonstrated consistently high marks for firmness, juiciness and appearance as a result of a good combination of parental characteristics.

AVA Star demonstrates excellence not only in terms of taste, texture and appearance but also in terms of yield, which is exceptional at up to one month longer than all other varieties — significantly extending the season as well as satisfying consumers, retailers and the grower.

The new variety consistently produces larger volumes, week on week, throughout the season. In its peak week (27) it actually produced 200g per plant.

Last year’s commercial production of AVA Star indicates a variety with very good resistance to mildew and Botrytis. This is achieved by a combination of parent material with known disease-resistance characteristics and the selection of a plant that expresses its flowers and fruit outside of the plant canopy.

AVA Star has regular medium-to-large berries that are well presented to pickers. This allows for improved speed of picking compared with other commercial varieties.

Regardless of the agricultural attributes of a new strawberry variety, retailers and consumers have the last say in its acceptability for commercial sale. AVA Star performed very well in all taste panels required by retailers to confirm its status, culminating in it being designated as a preferred variety with potential for sale as a premium variety.

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