Chilean cherry program aims to defy cold hour norms -

Chilean cherry program aims to defy cold hour norms

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Chilean cherry program aims to defy cold hour norms

Chile is the world's second-largest cherry exporter in terms of value, earning more than double what Turkey makes from the crop even though its volume is around 20,000 metric tons (MT) less. The country has made strides thanks to its counter-seasonal advantage and is yards ahead of other Southern Hemisphere competitors. The industry is not content to rest on its laurels though and is in search of its own varieties to avoid dependence on foreign intellectual property.

A Chilean cherry breeding program aims to develop early varieties with fewer cold hour requirements, but if everything goes to plan the new product would still be about eight years around the corner.

The project led by Consorcio Biofrutales has been undertaken by the country's Agricultural Research Institute (INIA). At we speak with program director Pía Rubio to find out more.

While Chile already has early-ripening cherries, Rubio highlights they are club varieties destined for just a limited number of hectares and growers who pay royalties.

"What is there is highly restricted, so that further underscores the need for our own variety," Rubio says.

"Cherries achieve good prices when they are very early or very late and our program is basically focused on three characteristics; being abl to obtain varieties that are resistant to cracking; being able to select varieties of good quality and good postharvest; and we are targeting early varieties."

With lower cold hours required, Rubio says the new cherries would be able to be grown in the north where temperatures are warmer.

"The varieties that come from overseas and are made commercial in Chile are not adapted to zones like the IV (Coquimbo) region, because cherries by nature lend themselves to areas with more winter cold hours.

The researchers involved are hoping they can concoct an export quality cherry that can be harvested in the first week of November.

"Cherries are very dependent on weather. It requires cold during the winter and is super susceptible to climatic conditions. We have years of very good production, good exports and then we fall, and that makes us unstable.

Selection seperations are currently taking place in the IV, V (Valparaiso) and Metropolitana (Santiago) regions.

"The idea is that the selection pressure is in situ - we are looking to have 5,000 established seprations in the field per year," Rubio says.

The study, which began in 2010, now has its first orchard with fruit under evaluation in Rengo in central Chile, far south of where researchers plan to ultimately introduce the new cherries.

International relations

Experienced U.S. breeder Robert Andersen from International Fruit Genetics (IFG) in California is also involved in assessing the project. The expert has met with the researchers in Chile to collaborate on selection and crossing issues, among other topics.

"We have the support of a person with years of experience in cherries. The Conscorcio Biofrutales bet on him. No we are better advised," says Rubio.

She highlights the added importance of importing germoplasm, saying that while Chile has attractive material, "there are characteristics that are not present in our germoplasm, so for these characteristics we have to search abroad".

Those involved have gone on technological tours of the U.S. to visit breeding programs.

"Next year we will do a tour of Europe where there are programs that are more public, and where it's much easier to exchange germoplasm material.

"The idea is also to get to know what's there in Europe, seeing what's attractive to bring back to Chile to form part of our parentals.

"There are selections in Europe that also have low cold requirements."

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