In May, and after 10 years of work, Sweet Pekeetah officially joined the list of 40 Japanese plum varieties that are currently registered in the Agricultural and Livestock Service.
The variety, which was developed by the Laboratory of Genetic Improvement and Fruit Quality of the Faculty of Agronomic Sciences of the University of Chile, should start being mass-marketed starting next season.
"We are conducting trials. The variety is already protected and it is currently being evaluated by ten companies in different areas, so that we can then analyze its management details," said Rodrigo Infante, director of the Laboratory of Genetic Improvement and Fruit Quality at the University of Chile.
The expert said that this is the first time they've work with plums, as they had previously developed four varieties of nectarines and one of peach, which are marketed in Chile. In fact, three of them are patented in the United States because they saw an interesting market opportunity.
"Our diagnosis was that there was little supply of plums with good sensory characteristics, that is, that were delicious to eat," he said.
Unlike other varieties, like the Black kat, Angeleno, and RR1, Sweet Pekeetah has an extra late ripening (from mid March to late March), so it has a higher sugar content.
"It can have a 20% soluble solids content and a balanced acidity," stated Infante.
He added that it adapted well to the soils and climate of the Metropolitana, O'Higgins, and Maule regions, but not so well further north. This because it requires to accumulate about 850 cold hours.
The fruit yielded by the plant, that is intended for the market in fresh, has a purple skin, with a coverage of 90% of color, and a caliber that goes from medium to large.
"You get fruits of 150 grams. The tree is not very vigorous and shows a balance between its productive and vegetative factors," stated Rodrigo Infante.
"I would like to see it in a well-managed commercial orchard because it has a lot of potential. Especially because it has a unique flavor and a very interesting pulp color. Its flavor can live up to varieties like Sweet Mary," said Harold Faille, the seed manager of Comercial Greenvic SA, who has also participated in its evaluation.
The executive believes that Sweet Pekeetah could perfectly compete with the Constanza variety, which is very coveted by Chilean producers as its fruit has a long shelf life and late harvested, but to which they have no access.
"A plum with a 20 degrees brix is very sweet, equivalent to a grape or cherry, which is not common. The rest of the plums have 12 to 15 degrees brix, so the Sweet Pekeetah is very attractive. It also has a crispness that makes it special," said Jordi Casas, a technical manager of the exporter Frusan.
It's worth noting that the Sweet Pekeetah is harvested in mid-March, a period when the competition for plums in the international market is greatly reduced. In fact, the peak of the season occurs in the early days of February, when different varieties, such as the Angeleno and others, hit the market.
In addition, it has all the features that are required to enter Asia, a market that was opened last season.
"We needed a product that could travel, and everything indicates that this niche has great potential," said Rodrigo Infante.
In that line, it is important to note that the Sweet Pekeetah has been shown to have a post harvest of up to 70 days, during which it maintains a perfect crispness and juiciness.
Jordi Casas, who was also an evaluator of this new variety, highlights its post harvest capacity.
"When checking the boxes after 70 days of storage, the plums were in good condition. This allows marketing them in any market and selling them when there is less fruit," he said.
Another aspect highlighted by the experts is that, since it blooms late (at the end of September, together with the European D'Agen plum, which is mainly used for the industrial market) the Sweet Pekeetah is not affected by many of the country's frosts that usually affect the flowering of Japanese plums.
However, the fact that this variety is a late bloomer also poses a technical challenge.
"It needs varieties that pollinate it and are also late varieties. We have seen that it is pollinated by the European plum, and that the fruit grows normally without being fertilized," Infante stated.
Therefore, experts agree, producers should be especially careful with the management of bees and ensure that there is pollen to pollinate the plant, as it doesn't abound at that time.
"It is a positive thing that it blossoms one month later than the others, but it is necessary to find out what other variety blooms at that time to pollinate it. There is evidence that dehydrated plums bloom a month later," added Jordi Casas.
Regarding resistance to diseases, such as the Pseudomonas syringae, it is important to note that Sweet Pekeetah behaves similarly to other varieties.
After developing this new variety of Japanese plum, the intention of researchers at the University of Chile is to continue exploring plums.
"We seek to continue developing varieties along these lines, with good sensory characteristics and targeting the Asian market. The idea is to find early alternatives, to be able to produce a product throughout the whole season," said Infante.