Waldo Maree - Stargrow

"How to breed the "next big thing" in the fruit world"

There many different fruits on the market and within each fruit group there are many different varieties to choose from, so how do you know what will be the 'next big thing'?

FreshPlaza spoke to Waldo Maree from South African company Stargrow to get a bit of insight into how you breed a new variety and get it on the shelves of the big retailers.

"These days growers need plant varieties that adds value throughout the supply chain. When breeding a new variety you need to look at what the consumer wants as well as what the producer wants. The changing climate can make things challenging on a production level, however growers need to be able to grow varieties that are well accepted in the market. To get the perfect balance is what we strive for," explains Waldo.

Waldo Maree and Khaya Ngoshe

Getting new varieties to the market
It takes years to develop and trial a new variety, from seedling to shelf. Production aspects are evaluated under different micro climates to see exactly where each different variety performs best. Consumer tests are being done, for example every two weeks during the season with the breeders and variety owners, the growers, exporters and retailers to evaluate and get feedback. Small trial blocks are planted and the fruit is sent to the customers to sample.

"To understand market acceptance, we need have relationships with the marketers and retailers. When we have good volumes of a new variety available, they will be sampled through this network and feedback is received to understand whether it will be accepted at consumer level.”

The next big thing
"You also need to able to predict what the markets wants in the future. For example the buzz word in new varieties now is red flesh and you should have bred for red flesh many years ago to have something commercially available now. It literally takes 20 years from the start to getting a commercial crop on the shelf, " admits Waldo.

But to plan 20 years ahead is almost impossible. Today people want red flesh but what do they want next year or the year after that? What will the climate be like in 20 years?

"Variety in genetics is key. Pests and disease are becoming more difficult to control and regulations on pesticides are becoming more strict, so how will it be in 10 year's time? Some pesticides may be banned and there may be pests which we don't have just now. You can’t necessarily plan for that, but you need to have a big base to work from, enough genetic variants to have options with different tolerances, different flesh colours, different flavours etc. It is always good to have something in your back pocket to pull out if need be."
The Polaris plum variety, developed by Stargrow with 18-20 brix.

Stargrow, the company
Stargrow is a private company started 20 years ago and it is primarily a nursery in top fruit, stone fruit, cherries, grapes and citrus but also grows and exports fruit. It is part of the International New Variety Network.

The company has three nursery sites, all with different climate conditions. The biggest areas of the nursery are topfruit and citrus.

Stargrow has been involved in variety development for 20 years, breeding varieties for the South African growing conditions. The marketing arm of the company was introduced eight years ago.

For more information:
Waldo Maree
Tel: +27 21 880 1882
Email: waldo@stargrow.co.za


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