British berry lovers could get their favourite fruits all year round thanks to three new pioneering UK government funded research projects set to revolutionise Scottish berry production, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said ahead of the Royal Highland Show.
£1.3 million from the government’s £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst has been awarded to projects led by the James Hutton Institute and James Hutton Limited, both based in Dundee, to help Scottish producers meet the growing demand for home grown berries.
The projects will use the latest advancements in understanding plant genetics to identify traits in raspberries that make them more resilient to pests and diseases, and in blueberries, traits that are better adapted to growing in Scotland’s cooler climate.
The super-resilient berries could mean a sweeter deal for Scottish growers exhibiting at the Royal Highland Show by boosting berry yields and extending the UK’s berry growing season, allowing consumers to buy their punnets all year round, and enabling Scottish producers to cash in on the huge demand for blueberries.
Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss said, "Scottish berries are up there with Scottish beef and lamb as a top quality UK product and this research will only enhance our reputation for producing good food both here and abroad.
"These projects demonstrate that by investing in the most cutting-edge techniques, and working collaboratively across the UK to raise standards, we can boost productivity and help more Scottish and UK producers to compete in international markets."
Berries are the latest in a long list of export successes for the UK, with exports trebling from £1.8 million in 2012 to £5.3 million in 2014. A combination of dry summers, fertile soils and better protection has seen strawberry and raspberry production in Scotland double over the past 10 years. In 2014, 25,000 tonnes of strawberries and 3,000 tonnes of raspberries were produced, contributing £81 million to the UK’s growing soft fruit sector, worth an estimated £351 million.
Professor Bob Ferrier, Director of Research Impact at the James Hutton Institute said, "This research is essential for the sustainability and commercial success of the Scottish and UK berry industry. Through the UK government’s investment in applying scientific innovation to address challenges faced across the agri-food supply chain, we can help producers grow more robust, disease resistant soft fruit varieties that are better suited to the UK market and climate."
The announcement comes during Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink which aims to promote Scotland’s abundant, quality produce and its key role in UK’s food and farming sector. Food and drink exports across the UK were worth nearly £19 billion last year with around 16,000 new food and drink products introduced every year—second in the world only to the US. Since 2014, the UK has opened 130 new markets, contributing to Scotland’s growing food and drink export market valued at £5.8 million. Food and drink remains the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector, with the food chain contributing £103 billion a year to our economy and employing 1 in 8 people.
The Agri-Tech Catalyst – part of the Government’s £160m Agri-Tech Strategy - supports innovative businesses and researchers develop collaborative solutions to global agricultural challenges across the UK. In addition to the £1.3 million government funding, industry has also invested a further £0.7 million in these projects.
The Agri-Tech Catalyst is run by Innovate UK and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the Department for International Development.
Story source: Defra news release, 19 Jun 2015