trait that is top of mind in the breeding program, says Dossett. With that in mind, he says they are focussing efforts on selecting parents that are tolerant to root rot, because it is so important.

MICHAEL DOSSETT Machine-harvested raspberries.

However, searching for many traits is the reason they need to begin with so many seedlings, then narrow those down, year after year, by eliminating ones that do not have certain of the desirable characteristics. It takes a couple of seasons to evaluate blueberries and assessments of 8,000 to 12,000 plants a season are not unusual.

Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate, either. Following two winters that were milder than normal, it was a relief to finally have a more-normal Fraser Valley winter this past year to allow them to evaluate the winter- hardiness of trial seedlings, he notes. In fact, Dossett says they will leave some in the ground for another year because of the longer period of freezing weather this year. The unbroken weeks of freezing temperatures tested some varieties and allowed him to eliminate some of the parent plants. Luckily, he says, none that were eliminated were trial plants that they had particularly high hopes for. The first of the new blueberry varieties are now in grower trials, but even still it will be six years more before the first ones will be proven and available for purchase by growers. “Breeding is a long-term business. You have to be patient.”


With the more-delicate fruit of the raspberry bush, tolerance to machine picking is a primary consideration in breeding new varieties, although common varieties now grown in the Fraser Valley are machine-pickable. Dossett notes that Meeker is okay picked by machine and Chemainus does well, but it is a variety that is susceptible to root rot.

Resistance to root rot is the second British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2017 17

There are a dozen or so that are looking good for root rot issues now, he says. On the issue of machine picking, Dossett says they have now tried running the

harvester through the seedling plot to judge earlier in the breeding process what percentage will be machine- pickable, so those that aren’t be can be eliminated early on.

That’s important since 95 per cent of the industry is process now, he explains, adding it would actually be easier to develop a fresh-market berry. For processing, consistency is important, along with colour and Brix and acidity, while for the fresh market not all those traits are as important. Dossett says there are lots of reasons to be excited about some of the new varieties that are coming down the pipeline, with the first ones going into grower trials soon.

In the second year there could be a baby crop and by year three they can begin to do assessments, which will continue for two or three years, he explains.

The next step is production of enough plants to supply nurseries, so if all goes smoothly, it will be seven to 10 years for new raspberry varieties to be generally available for the industry, he figures.

“I realize it’s hard for growers, but breeding takes patience,” he comments.


Although the biggest percentage of effort in the B.C. berry breeding program goes into blueberries and raspberries, 10 per cent is devoted to development of new varieties of strawberries, says Dossett.

In addition to putting out test plots of selections and new releases of varieties from other programs, the B.C. berry breeding program does about a dozen crosses of strawberries a year and puts out two to three thousand seedlings. “There are some advanced selections in the strawberry program that are looking pretty good.”

B.C. Berry Cultivar

Development Inc. was formed recently as a collaboration of the Raspberry Industry Development Council, B.C. Blueberry Council and B.C. Strawberry Growers’ Association to manage the province’s berry breeding program.

Geneticist Michael Dossett heads up the program from an office at the federal Agassiz Research and Development Centre.

The BCBCDI manages the breeding program’s intellectual property and will manage rights to propagate new varieties developed by the breeding program so that royalties from new varieties can be reinvested into the program.

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