British blackcurrant harvest beats climate change predictions

An investment in climate-resilient blackcurrant varieties, as well as new growing techniques, is set to produce a good harvest this year, reports growers’ association The Blackcurrant Foundation.

The harvest begins in earnest this week, with 10,000t of fruit forecast.

Researching for the future

The Blackcurrant Foundation has been working on a new Innovate UK project to establish innovative ways British growers can encourage blackcurrant bushes to flourish in warmer temperatures.

Without enough chilling time through the colder months, blackcurrant bushes will not produce the same quality and quantity of fruit meaning milder winters are becoming a bigger issue for growers.

The project has involvement from the Government’s innovation agency, NIAB East Malling Research, and agricultural research centre, The James Hutton Institute.

The Blackcurrant Foundation has also been breeding new blackcurrant varieties in partnership with the James Hutton Institute. Researchers at the institute have been using conventional plant breeding techniques to select new varieties with a lower winter chill requirement.

Harriet Prosser, a blackcurrant agronomist at Lucozade Ribena Suntory, said: “This is a long-term strategy, as it takes a minimum of 13 years to establish a new variety.

“However, with such a mature breeding programme, we have selections at all stages of development. This year we will see the first fruit harvested from our newest climate-resilient variety, Ben Lawers.”

It’s good news for the 35 growers across the UK, the Blackcurrant Foundation’s spokesperson Jo Hilditch added: “Early reports are that the harvest is looking much better than predicted, which is great news for us as growers, and great news for Ribena, who use 90% of Britain’s blackcurrant crop.

“We are proud to be able to supply our customers with 100% British fruit and work hard to ensure our blackcurrants maintain the same great quality and flavour every year.”