From June 2013, companies can take out a stake in a 10-year programme with a five-year break clause. "We need ten members to make it financially viable. But consortia of up to five smaller companies can buy shares and nurseries will be entitled to a propagation licence, which will be exclusive, at least initially, while marketing companies will get first access to them."
Future breeding will cover June- and ever-bearers as well as different growing systems and will use marker-assisted breeding to select for traits such as Verticillium wilt resistance to "give us a significant advantage over our competitors", said Simpson. "Fruit quality always has to be top of the agenda."
He confirmed that the East Malling-bred EM1764 variety will be launched as Malling Centenary next year to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Kent research station and will be exclusive to Sainsbury's for the first two years.
The variety performed well in a recent field comparison trial of 13 varieties from a range of international breeders in a two-season test. It was highest-yielding of class 1 fruit among nine tray-format varieties in the first year and second-highest yielding among all 13 trialled in the second year.
The fruit also scored highest in total among 12 varieties rated over seven fruit quality indicators, though its orange-red colour was rated as slightly below average.
Trial officer Sarah Troop described six the other varieties - Vibrant, Flair, Clery, Rumba, Joly and Elegance - as "also having potential".