Growing Futures

Blackcurrants with health benefits

Blackcurrants with health benefits

Breeding new cultivars with compounds that provide functional benefits

New Zealand produces 8,000 tonnes of blackcurrants each year, around 4% of the global harvest and the largest exporter outside of Europe. The majority of the crop is exported as concentrate, for use in drinks, jam and other processed foods, with a value of $14 million.

New cultivars tailored to New Zealand conditions allow growers to plant crops in low chill environments, conditions to which traditional varieties are not well-adapted. Resistance to key pests and diseases also reduces grower reliance on chemical pesticides, whilst varied flowering and harvest times allow growers to manage their production risks and resources.

Since the mid-1990s, the blackcurrant breeding programme has released fifteen new cultivars for the New Zealand industry. The cultivars produce high yields of fruit and different cultivars can be harvested at different times in the season, from early December to late January, and are suitable for machine harvesting. The portfolio includes cultivars that produce fruit suitable for juice concentrate - with high yields of stable, dark juice and high vitamin C; as well as fruit for Individual Quick Frozen (IQF) processing – with large, firm fruit and low acidity.

Cultivars from the New Zealand breeding programme currently account for approximately 17% of the annual harvest.

Cultivars for the future

The breeding programme continues to focus on yield, agronomic and flavour attributes, but one of the key targets for the future is improved resistance to Currant Clearwing. Mating disruption is the key control method, as the adult moth is most active during periods where fruit is reaching maturity and the potential for traditional chemical control use is reduced. It is estimated that the Currant Clearwing costs the industry more than $3.7 million each year in management costs and lost fruit yield, and the introduction of a new cultivar with resistance to the moth – in addition to the traits desired by consumers and producers - would dramatically reduce these costs.

Another new target of the breeding programme is cultivars that produce fruit with high concentrations of compounds associated with human health benefits. Research has shown that New Zealand-grown blackcurrants offer a number of potential beneficial effects, and that specific ratios of certain compounds can impart a health effect. Fruit with known concentrations of these key compounds are in demand for use in the development of new functional foods.

The blackcurrant breeding programme is funded by Blackcurrants New Zealand and Plant & Food Research.

Created: September 2012

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