Soft fruit production in Scotland represents a small but valuable sector within the agricultural/horticultural landscape, occupying 1650 ha supplying high-value fresh and processing markets throughout the UK, worth £52m annually for raspberries and £8m rising to an added value of over £200m for the blackcurrant processing crop. The raspberry industry in Scotland is an excellent example of a niche market with considerable value to local economies in rural areas. The viability of this and the other soft fruit industries will depend on several factors, including improved means for pest and disease control that are in line with increasing demand for reduced pesticide use in agriculture, reduced pesticide residues at harvest and new cultivars that can enable growers to respond quickly to a changing market place.The establishment of nutritionally-enhanced end-products (new cultivars, processed products) will identify Scottish fruit as being at the upper end of the quality market, thereby creating a highly visible national product 'footprint' that would have beneficial knock-on effects with regard to economic growth, wealth creation and increased employment.
Our work benefits the entire Scottish soft fruit supply chain - growers, marketing organisations, retailers and consumers. Furthermore, Institute bred varieties have a strong international presence and for example it has been estimated that Institute bred blackcurrants account for more than 50% of the global crop.
The unique plant resources held at the Institute, coupled with the incorporation of recent advances in genomics and genetics, will be used to develop improved germplasm into the relevant breeding programmes, with particular emphasis on increased nutritional value and higher levels of durable resistance to damaging pests and pathogens. The genetic control and heritability of key traits, and production of linked molecular markers, will be used to develop more efficient breeding strategies. Desirable alleles for commercially important traits will be identified and brought into enhanced germplasm; in Rubus, comparative mapping with other members of the Rosaceae will be used to accelerate this process.
At present most of our breeding effort is directed to red raspberry and blackcurrant, although we have smaller programmes for blackberry, gooseberry and strawberry. However, in future we will investigate a wider range of soft fruit crops to identify those with increasing potential for production in Scotland, such as blueberries and redcurrants.
Our breeding programmes, sponsored by end-users and SEERAD, provide the platform for delivery of germplasm and associated knowledge enabling the industry to realise its potential and increase its competitiveness within the UK and beyond. Future, changes in environmental, cultural and agronomic practices within the industry will impact strongly on both the nature of the germplasm required for the future and also the likely pest and disease problems.
The nutritional importance of soft fruit in the Scottish diet aligns with key policy issues within SEERAD to improve the health of the Scottish population. The proposed work aims to screen available germplasm of Rubus and Ribes for its nutritional value and identify the most important bioactive compounds. From this, clear breeding objectives can be developed to provide the raw materials for both fresh market crops and innovative fruit-based products. Additionally, the likely introduction of EU legislation limiting the fortification of food and drinks with vitamins will require increases in naturally-occurring levels within fruit cultivars, but will also provide new opportunities for development and utilisation of high-vitamin species.
Pests and diseases remain a threat to production and cause serious economic losses to growers. There are a number of reasons for continuing vigilance with pests and pathogens including: imminent changes in EU-wide pesticide harmonisation plans will mean the withdrawal of many pesticides, and control of many pests and diseases will become more difficult in the short- to medium-term; the risk of hitherto unrecognised pests and diseases in Scotland increasing in importance due to protected cropping systems and/or climate change; changes of varieties which can result in a change in susceptibility to pests and diseases.
Thus, in addition to the long-term development of new germplasm with durable resistance genes, particularly against aphids, viruses and Phytophthora spp. There is a need to identify appropriate integrated pest and disease management (IPDM) strategies for the short- to medium-term. For example, we are developing methods for non-pesticidal control of raspberry beetle and raspberry cane midge using semiochemical approaches and attractant-enhanced traps.
The provision of disease-free nuclear stock of soft fruit germplasm represents a statutory requirement, because propagation of high-health planting material is crucial to the sustainability of commercial production throughout the UK. The Institute is the sole UK establishment with the expertise and facilities to produce pathogen tested (PT) foundation stocks of Rubus, Ribes and Fragaria, and we are an international centre for the supply of such PT germplasm for scientific and commercial use worldwide.
Our pathogen detection protocols use the best tests available, many of which were first devised at the Institute, to screen for a variety of fungal, bacterial and viral diseases and nematode pests of Rubus, Ribes and Fragaria. We will continue to devise improvements in the methodology for maintaining nuclear stock, particularly the increased use of PCR-based pathogen detection protocols, which will raise the overall health status of the UK fruit industry, thereby assisting its sustainability.
The changing climate is already of major importance to soft fruit growing, due to (a) the succession of mild winters leading to poor bud break in some fruit species, and (b) the increase in protected and extended season production in Rubus. Our future work aims to identify germplasm adapted to a changing climate, identify the genetic control points of relevant adaptations, and develop germplasm with potential utility in extension of the main cropping season. Additionally, the potential effects of climate change and cropping practices on the pest and disease spectrum affecting future crops of Rubus will be examined.