Good Fruit Grower

May 15

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14 MAY 15, 2015 GOOD FRUIT GROWER T he Northwest cherry industry has asked Washington State University to make changes to its sweet cherry breeding program so it is more responsive to growers' needs. The Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission and the Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission have provided more than a million dollars from grower assessments to support WSU's cherry breeding efforts over the past decade, as well as almost half a million dollars for research in genomics and genetics relating to cherry breeding. When WSU submitted its annual funding request last fall, the commissions asked the univer- sity to make significant changes to the program to address management problems and improve its chances of success. Dave Allan, a member of the breeding program's industry advisory committee, said the Northwest cherry industry had big hopes that the program would produce new early- and late-maturing large, firm, mildew-resistant varieties. Specifically, there's a need for an alter- native to the early cherry variety Chelan, which is not as large or firm as the industry would like. "But it's just been difficult," Allan said. "There's been a number of technical problems. We're in the process of re-evaluating the program and trying to understand how to go forward. The industry has spent a lot of money on this and the industry has a lot of expectations." Jeff Cleveringa, head of research and development for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers in Wenatchee and also a member of the advisory committee, said the industry still supports the breeding program, but is frustrated at how it's been run. The committee provided a breakdown showing exactly where it wanted the pro- gram to focus its efforts. It specified that 30 percent of the effort should be on early-season red cherries, 10 percent on early blush cherries, 30 percent on late-maturing red cherries, 10 percent on late blush cherries, 10 percent on varieties suited to mechanical harvesting without stems, and just 10 percent on mid-season red cherries. "The industry gave some pretty clear guidelines about where they want to see the efforts of the breeding program," Cleveringa said. "What we're getting is a huge amount in the middle of the season, and we're not seeing anything on the edges." Dr. Jim Moyer, director of WSU's Agricultural Research Center, confirmed in an email to Good Fruit Grower that the commissions had made recommendations for improving the program. "We are still W ashington State University's sweet cherry breeding program has just one elite selection that is being tested in orchards in Washington and Oregon for possible release. It is an early cherry that matures a few days after Chelan. The variety, known as Rosa 2 (R2), is being fast- tracked, and 100-tree plots were planted last year at five locations in Washington and Oregon. Tom Auvil, research horticulturist with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, said the trees might produce enough fruit for storage and packing tests in 2016 or 2017. Dena Ybarra, who is on the cherry breeding program's advisory committee, said the committee will want to see two or three crops of fruit from those trees before decid- ing whether the selection should be commercialized. The breeding program has three phases. Phase 1: Fruit is evaluated for three years after the trees begin to bear, which is about three years after planting. There are 10,000 own-rooted seedlings under- going initial evaluation in Phase 1. Particularly promising selections can go on a fast track after only one year of fruiting, though it takes two years to grow the trees for further evaluation. Phase 2: The most promising selections are moved to Phase 2, where five trees of each selection are planted in three locations and compared with a commercial variety. There are currently 27 selections in this phase. Phase 3: Elite selections are planted in replicated trials in grower orchards in Washington and Oregon so that enough fruit can be produced for commercial handling and final evaluation. R2 is the only selection in this phase. Auvil said another dark red selection (R25), which is several days earlier than Chelan and has "fabulous qual- ity, firmness, and flavor" is in Phase 2. But Dave Allan, a lower Yakima Valley grower who's also on the cherry breeding program's advisory commit- tee, says he's not sure about the potential for either of those selections yet. Every week during cherry harvest, Allan joins Ybarra and Jeff Cleveringa, another advisory committee member, to walk WSU's test plots in Prosser and taste and evaluate the ripening fruit. "The industry wants those cherries, but I don't have enough experience to come to any real conclusion," said Allan. "I haven't seen enough fruit. I'm not nearly that optimistic that we actually have something." He's evaluating both of them on his farm, but the trees were only planted within the last couple of years. Allan is excited, however, about a dark red cherry (an offspring of Regina) that he says is "a monster." A nine- row cherry weighs about 12 grams, and this selection (R29) weighs 17 grams, and is firm, too. Allan said this selection was among half a dozen that looked big and wonderful until it rained two seasons ago and all but this one split. The tree is large and productive, but he's not sure about fruit flavor. Right off the tree, it tasted good, but after a week in storage it was less impres- sive. It matures a couple of days after Bing (around June 24 in Prosser.) "I would have to say this tree was overcropped, but it had immense cherries, so that's pretty exciting and, even if it doesn't work out, the genetics are there for big cherries and extremely high production." The selection is still in the first phase of the program. Auvil said there's also a very large blush selection (R21) that averages 18 grams and matures around June 19. Although it will be years before a cultivar is ready to release, WSU is creating a Cherry Cultivar Licensing Committee—made up of cherry industry representa- tives—to provide guidance on how to commercialize new cultivars. This will be similar to a committee that works with WSU's apple breeding program. WSU and the Tree Fruit Research Commission and the Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission, which help fund the program, all need to sign the enabling documentation, and then the two commissions will nominate members to the new licensing committee. —G. Warner Early cherry on FAST TRACK Cherries Growers are frustrated by the pace of WSU's sweet cherry breeding. by Geraldine Warner New cherries wanted

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