GEN strawberries

Researchers from the Australian Strawberry Breeding Programme have been hard at work, trialling, tasting and assessing thousands of new varieties of strawberry, and the results are proving popular.

The programme, funded by Hort Innovation in partnership with the Queensland department of agriculture and fisheries, aims to identify the best tasting and highest yielding varieties, developed through natural breeding, for Australia.

The current programme began in 2018 and continues the work of previous research, which saw the commercialisation of 12 new varieties in recent years.

Hort Innovation research and development manager, Vino Rajandran, said the strawberry breeding programme strives to develop elite varieties for both Australian consumers and growers by combining the best of both natural breeding techniques and cutting-edge science to improve fruit quality and flavour.

“The programme, in collaboration with Australian strawberry growers, breeds for the best tasting and yielding varieties that are suitable for sub-tropical, temperate and Mediterranean climates, covering most of the strawberry production area of Australia,” noted Rajandran.

“Last year more than 80 per cent of strawberry plants grown commercially in Queensland were varieties developed by the programme, so if you bought a punnet of Australian-grown strawberries from the supermarket tomorrow, you are buying an Australian product that has been perfected for both our climate and taste-buds.”

Strawberry breeder Jodi Neal added, “We’ve started screening our strawberries for the presence of aromatic compounds that contribute to that sweet peach flavour in strawberries and the presence of genes that contribute to this.

“We are also producing white and pale strawberries – like strawberries and cream. We will soon be looking for a commercialisation partner for these varieties. The varieties are pure white on the inside and taste a bit like pineapples,” said Neal.

“We are also working on a new darker variety that’s the colour of red wine.”

Queensland minister for agricultural industry development and fisheries, Mark Furner, said the success of the breeding programme continues the Queensland government’s proud support for strawberry growers.

“Queensland is Australia’s largest strawberry producer with an average industry value of A$171m over the past five years and the breeding programme can be credited with a large part of this success,” said Furner.

“The programme’s strawberry varieties had an estimated national farm gate value of A$201m in 2018-19 and now make up 80 per cent of strawberries planted in Queensland, supporting jobs and enhancing Queensland’s well-earned reputation for producing the world’s finest produce.”

Hort Innovation’s accredited dietitian, Jemma O’Hanlon, said the health benefits associated with strawberry consumption was worth highlighting.

“Strawberries are nutritional powerhouses. They contain a whopping 170 per cent of our daily intake of Vitamin C, which supports our immunity as well as enriching our skin from within,” said O’Hanlon.

“Strawberries also contain folate, potassium and powerful antioxidants to fight off free radical damage. They are very low in kilojoules, so they make the perfect snack for those managing their weight and they are also perfect straight from the punnet, just as nature intended, and the gut-loving fibre will keep you fuller for longer.”