(Blacksburg, Va., May 4, 1999) -- It took Herbert Stiles 30 years to keep a promise to the coed who helped him count thousands of strawberry seeds when he was a master's degree student. He told her he would name his first cultivar in her honor. In 1996, Stiles named a new raspberry variety "Anne," after his wife of 32 years. In 1998, Anne (the raspberry) received a patent, and now its large golden fruit is growing in popularity.
The plant patent was one of three earned by researchers from four universities who are cooperating to create new varieties of raspberries. Stiles, associate professor at Virginia Tech's Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center (SPAREC) in Blackstone, Va.; Joseph Fiola, small fruits specialist at Rutgers University's Cream Ridge Fruit Research and Extension Center; Brian Smith, small fruit breeder and horticulturist at the University of Wisconsin; and Harry Jan Swartz, small fruits breeder and biotechnologist at the University of Maryland, received two patents last May for raspberry plants named Caroline and Anne, and one patent in September for a raspberry plant named Lauren. Caroline is named after Fiola's daughter and Lauren after Swartz's daughter. The researchers waited until the new varieties had survived several years of trials before naming them. Now Caroline, Anne, and Lauren are finding favor with growers across the country.
Caroline and Anne are fall-bearing or every-bearing raspberry cultivars. Giles County, Virginia, grower Ralph Farley says he harvests Anne at his Berry Patch farm spring and fall.
Farley tested the variety in 1997 "and it turned out fine, so I put in 2,400 feet last April. I get two super crops -- about 1,000 cases of beautiful golden berries almost as big as coffee creamers." The fruit is only about 10 percent of his market because "people are still getting used to the unusual color," but by the end of last year's season he was beginning to get requests for special occasions.
Farley has grown Caroline for production since 1997. "Caroline is red and capable of producing good crops of larger, more flavorful, and more cohesive fruit one-to-three weeks earlier than standard cultivars," the researchers' literature reports. "It's nice. It's doing well," says Farley.
But don't rush to the Berry Patch. Farley wholesales only to five-star hotels and gourmet markets in the metro Washington, D.C. area.
Farley is testing Lauren this year, which the researchers report is a "spring bearing red raspberry cultivar capable of producing large fruit that ripens one-to-three weeks earlier than the only other large fruited cultivar grown in the eastern United States, and several days to weeks earlier that most standard cultivars currently in widespread use." Stiles says fruit from Lauren can be available in late May and last into the third week of June at his Blackstone, Va. experiment station.
The availability of fresh raspberries in the east is relatively recent; and they still aren't plentiful.
Stiles has been working with raspberries since 1974 and has been at Virginia Tech's Southern Piedmont Center since 1978, but has only been developing new plants for about 10 years. "We have had some productive plants, but it has been my job to identify and address limiting factors."
Swartz started breeding raspberries in 1979 "because that was what no one was doing," he says. "There were opportunities to make a difference -- to start an industry and to increase growers' profits without asking them to do much different. For example, we are trying to produce the seedlings 'organically,' which means that the ones that survive best may be resistant to pests; that could eliminate pesticide applications."
The cooperative research effort didn't get underway until 1988, after Swartz started the North American Bramble Growers Association. Swartz says, "I jumped at the chance to work with Herb (Stiles), because he is the world's most creative trelliser by far, a trained geneticist, and a deeply committed individual to a cause I consider dear to my heart, the raspberry and blackberry industry."
Stiles says that "Harry is the anchor of our group. He hybridizes parent plants that may contribute desirable traits -- such as fruit quality, disease resistance, and winter hardiness -- to progenies of seedlings that all of us evaluate for adaptation to our different climates and growing conditions."
Swartz and colleagues published the first methods for production of haploid plants and the use of leaf organgenesis. "That has been the key method for producitng polyploid breeding material," he says. "Derek Jennings, who retired from the Scottish Crop Research Institute in 1989, and the breeders at the USDA helped me develop my breeding philosophies. Derek and I established genetic engineering protocols for raspberries and blackberries. He helped me raise the scope and depth of our program to what it is today."
The researchers' objectives have been to combine traits from a wide range of parents in order to create new cultivars with large, firm, high quality, rot-resistant berries and disease and pest resistant plants that will be highly acceptable to wholesalers, retailers, and especially consumers, says Stiles.
Sooooo, will these new cultivars grow in your back yard, or their berries be available from a grower near you?
While testing is not yet complete for all regions, West Coast producers were quick to plant Lauren, says Stiles.
However, he adds that "Commercial or home garden utility of these cultivars can be expected to vary among locations, and among different cultural systems within regions."
At Pennsylvania State University, Anne and Caroline have been rated at the top of formal consumer preference trials among 13 commercially available fall-cropping raspberry cultivars, Stiles says. "Theirs were also the largest berries in the associated field trial."
Stiles reports that Rutgers' site represents a somewhat "traditional raspberry production region" for the Eastern United States, and that tests at Wye Mills on the Eastern Shore and at Keedysville, Md. allow the germplasm to be tested under both coastal plain and in-land conditions.
"Joe Fiola at Rutgers, who does a lot of the second and third seedling evaluations and pre-release preparation, can grow some our largest fruit in central New Jersey," says Swartz.
Brian Smith's Wisconsin location is used to determine the limits of winter hardiness and Northern adaptability in the breeding material. Cold hardiness differences were unexpected. "You might think that some of the southern material might not make it there, in -40 F weather, but Lauren does," Swartz says. "It's much drier than I thought up there, but the soil has a lot of water holding capacity and plants can grow quite vigorously. I don't really see much difference in fruit size from the Piedmont. In fall bearers, they want earlier production while the warmer regions want production through the late fall."
Swartz says an advantage of the fall raspberry varieties is the canes don't have to survive the winter because berries are produced on each year's new canes. "One novel approach our program is taking is to breed for fall-bearing blackberries with the same advantage."
By the way, he adds, "the Wisconsin field is located next to the Kansas City Chiefs summer camp field. It's no coincidence that their jerseys are red!!!!."
In southeast Virginia, high summer temperatures and high humidity help researchers to identify and eliminate seedlings that are susceptible to a number of debilitating leaf and cane diseases. "Soil and weather conditions at the Blackstone testing site also allow us to screen out many of the seedlings that are susceptible to 'wet-feet' or phytophthora root-rot," says Stiles.
"Phytophthora root-rot resistance, or tolerance, seems a very important factor for long-term survival of raspberry plantings at many locations worldwide."
Development of new cultivars is an important tool for solving serious disease problems and for adapting crops such as raspberries to non-traditional production regions such as Virginia's Southern Piedmont," says Stiles. "In the old days, we wouldn't have patented them, but now we have to look for ways to get money back into our research programs."
Swartz adds, "I don't hear any complaints from growers and proceeds from patents do help pay the way in this type of research."
The Southern Piedmont research center will set up formal trials of the new cultivars and other "advanced selections" in the near future. There will be a Field Day at the Blackstone, Va. center on July 15. Growers of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries can learn about the latest plants and cultural techniques. Swartz and Stiles will be among the researchers presenting their findings.
"In case anyone still doesn't know it, you are happiest when you are successfully helping others," says Swartz. "I can honestly say that the four cooperators exude this mantra. It must be in the fruit."
The three varieties are available exclusively from Nourse Berry Farms, South Deerfield, Mass. (http://www.noursefarms.com/bramb.html). Information is also available from Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, Inc. (http://www.vtip.org).
Materials provided by Virginia Tech. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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