A University of Guelph professor will play a leading role in a new research project designed to strengthen Ontario’s fruit industry.

Through the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (VRIC) in Vineland, Ont., researchers will assess plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots for superior varieties that meet consumer preferences. The four-year, $590,000 project is a collaborative initiative under the AgriInnovation Program of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The federal program supports the development of new Canadian tree fruit and grape varieties. This project brings together VRIC, the Ontario Tender Fruit Producers and U of G, with additional support provided by the Ontario Fresh Grape Growers and VineTech Canada.

At Vineland, Prof. Jay Subramanian, Plant Agriculture, will use the new funding to continue his studies of tender fruits.

“We’ll be working to understand the genetic mechanism of black knot resistance in stone fruits using plums as our model, and we’ll also be assessing the post-harvest behaviour of newly developed selections of tender fruits, especially yellow plums, nectarines and peaches,” he said.

Subramanian said the new project will tie in well with his previous research in tender fruits. He works with U of G faculty, graduate students and post-doctoral researchers on breeding research, a process that can take many years.

“Consumer interests keep changing and, thus, the growers need to feed the changing demands. As researchers, we need to provide a continuous pipeline of new and improved genetic material of tender fruits.”

Vineland houses the only active tender fruit breeding program in Canada.

Subramanian said that tender fruit improvement is typically a long and patience-testing process. Studying disease resistance can require land, labour, effort and vision.

“Continuing this work is very important to the local tender fruit industry,” he said.

“We are the northern-most latitude of tender fruit-growing in the world. Any introductions from other places – even as close as Michigan, New York or Pennsylvania – often do not thrive well in our harsh winters. Thus we need to develop our own genetic material, which is what this research facility in Vineland has done for decades.”