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Cherry cultivar reaps sweet rewards


August 3, 2012
By Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada

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August 3, 2012, Ottawa, Ont – An Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) cherry cultivar that has led to number of new cherry varieties was honoured today for its “sweet” success . The American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS), during its annual conference, presented AAFC with the award for Outstanding Fruit Cultivar Award 2012 for the Sweetheart cherry cultivar.

“(The) government is proud to support internationally-recognized research and innovation in cherry breeding,” said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz. “Cultivars developed by AAFC breeding programs have allowed growers to gain a top-notch reputation in the world marketplace as producers of high-quality crops. This boost to the cherry industry has helped stimulate and diversify job creation, benefiting our overall economy.”

AAFC has developed germplasm that is attractive to today’s growers and consumers alike. Fruit quality is of key but even more value is added by self-fertility and late maturity. These two attributes mean that fruit is set even when the spring seasons are cooler than usual, and that new, late-season markets can be tapped when conventional sources have disappeared from retailers’ shelves.

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The Sweetheart cherry cultivar originated from a cross between Van and Newstar cultivars made in 1975 at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre (PARC) in Summerland, B.C. Retired AAFC researcher Dr. Lane and his team developed Sweetheart as part of an ongoing breeding program to develop sweet cherry cultivars with improved productivity and quality. Officially released in 1994, Sweetheart has been an important parent in the breeding program leading to a number of new cherry varieties, including Staccato, Sentennial, and Sovereign.

“I nominated Sweetheart for this award because it is a very good example of how innovation plays an important role in the agriculture sector’s success.” said Dr. Denise Neilsen, a research scientist at AAFC PARC in Summerland.

 “The cultivars which have been released from AAFC’s sweet cherry program have had a tremendous, lasting impact on the cherry industry here in British Columbia as well as around the world.” said Dr. Cheryl Hampson, the current cherry breeder at AAFC PARC in Summerland. “It’s an honour for me to be following in the footsteps of some of the world’s best sweet cherry breeders.”

Along with other AAFC-developed cultivars (such as Lapins and Staccato), Sweetheart cherries have helped to revive the sweet cherry industry in British Columbia. Late maturing cherries of exceptional quality allow producers and distributors to capture valuable market share at the end of the season, when all the other cherry varieties have finished.

Cherries are considered to be one of the most important tree fruit crops in British Columbia, and a significant amount of the crop is exported to the United States, Asia and Europe. British Columbia cherry exports accounted for C$500,000 yearly for most of the 1990s. That number has since grown to almost $40 million in 2011. The ‘Sweetheart’ cultivar is also extensively planted in sweet cherry regions around the world.

The American Society for Horticultural Science’s Distinguished Achievement Award is given to encourage and recognize outstanding achievement of a specialized nature consistent with the overall objectives of the Society. The Outstanding Fruit Cultivar Award recognizes a modern fruit introduction having a significant impact on the fruit industry.