Fruit breeding is a ponderous process, a science spanning decades to procure the perfect seedling to bring to market. For Jayasankar Subramanian of the University of Guelph, that moment has arrived with the creation of two new varieties of Japanese plums and two of early peaches, which are expected to be in the market for growers shortly.
The end result is the culmination of 18 years of research and testing to produce viable crops that producers and consumers alike will demand.
The crop has to be dependable and resilient for farmers to add to their fields, long-lasting and tough to survive days or even weeks of transport, and succulent and delicious enough, of course, for the end consumer to actually purchase. Subramanian believes he has bred just such a product.
“We started looking through (the seedlings),” he says, which were first planted by his predecessor at the university in 1999. “And we filtered out from about 800 such seedlings, and we came out with a handful – like six or seven – that are of interest to the growers. And of those six seven, these two are the prime material that will be released.”
But for Subramanian, a plant agriculture professor and researcher at the university’s fruit-breeding facilities, at 18 years, the development cycle for these fruit was actually fairly quick.
It can take between five to 10 years just for a seed to fruit; another three to five for cleaning, where the seeds are inspected and scrubbed for possible diseases; and another four to six to multiply a viable seed for market. As a whole, the process can typically take 20 to 35 years or even more.
Subramanian’s plum varieties have been selectively bred to be far less susceptible to common diseases plaguing the conventional varieties like black knot, as well as easier to transport. Regular plums have a problem of losing their colour and becoming translucent and oily after a week or so in storage, which destroys their market value,
“Our varieties are in every aspect pretty much similar to the existing plums, but the only thing is it is much larger and it stays opaque even after two or three weeks of storage, and it is a lot more resistant to black knot than the existing variety.”
The peaches too, have been improved, though in a different way. Subramanian’s breed are designed for an early harvest so that the fruit can compete with its American cousins, which are harvested earlier. By pulling back the harvest date, Ontario farmers can have a shot of getting their peaches to grocery stores at the same time as U.S. peaches.
“The main thing they look for is a good variety that will come early in the market. The reason for that is typically we get ours first from the U.S. because they are in the southern latitude so they flower. See our peaches flower only in May whereas their peaches … might flower in late February or early March.” To make up for the delay, Canadians need to find ways to get their peaches to market faster.
But after years of careful craftsmanship, Subramanian is anticipating seeing his creations in the supermarkets.
“When I see my varieties out in the market shelf, there is no equal to it. That is the ultimate feeling for a breeder. Especially if you just go in as a consumer, walk in the market and you see your varieties on the shelf, and people say good things about your variety. That’s like your child winning a big prize at a national level, or something like that,” he says.