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Berry breeding takes new turn

Shift in control will allow industry to play amuch larger role in the development of new varieties.

By Tamara Leigh R

ecent changes to British Columbia’s berry breeding program place more control in the hands of industry. Embedded in January’s federal funding announcement of $2.8 million in AgriInnovation funding under Growing Forward 2 was an agreement to move Dr. Michael Dossett’s position as berry breeder from government to industry. President of the B.C. Raspberry Growers’ Association, Sukh Kahlon, says the move will allow industry to oversee the breeding program and make changes as they go. A joint steering committee has been established, including representatives from the blueberry, raspberry and strawberry growers. The groups are working together to fund the program – 50 per cent raspberries, 40 per cent blueberries, and 10 per cent straw- berries.

“Berry breeding is an import part of staying competitive and providing good product to our customers,” says Kahlon. “If you look around, everybody is really busy building plant breeding programs as the silver bullet that will give industry the cutting edge. Some large corpora- tions can do their own in-house breeding.

“In B.C. we have a lot of small players, so we have to come together to catch up and make our industry as a whole sustainable.”

In the past, industry input on the development of new varieties was limited, and the varieties coming out of the Pacific Agri-food Research Centre program were not patented. With the new structure in place, the industry is looking to make changes to the licensing and commercialization process that will generate revenue, and make the program self-sustaining.

12 British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2014 Dr. Michael Dossett

“Developing new varieties is a a multi- year process — you don’t get results right away,” says Kahlon. “I think we have a very good scientist leading the program now and we’re going to put the system in place for him to be able to deliver the goods.”

Many of the details of the breeding program transition are still being worked out, but for now, Dossett will still have access to technician support and facilities at PARC Agassiz and the Clearbrook Field Station. While still working at the government research centre, his position now rests with the B.C. Blueberry Council.

With the uncertainty of the program’s Sukh Kahlon

future behind him, Dossett is getting down to the business that he’s best at – breeding better berries.

“The priorities moving forward are different for each of the berry crops,” he says.

Under the new arrangement, the strawberry program has been downsized and Dossett is not pursuing new crosses.

“We are evaluating germ plasm that we already had in the pipeline, and trying to work out a system that will work for us to do day neutral varieties down the road,” he says. “Ultimately the hope is that if we get a national council, there will be additional funding coming

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