The second half of Global Grape Congress included an analysis of a host of challenges, including rising costs and logistical issues, were impacting the European grape market, with a special focus on the UK.
Live discussions were held on the future of grapes when it comes to breeding and marketing, as well as on the urgent need for sustainability.
Andy Higgins of US breeder IFG stressed the role that breeders can play in a rapidly changing world. “I think the investments that are being made throughout the entire chain are significant, and the challenges are significant,” he said. “We’ve mentioned rising input costs, rising challenges with production, transportation and logistics. Breeding companies offer solutions to many of those challenges. The impact we can have on the entire success of the supply chain is significant and the only way to do that is to introduce new cultivars and new varieties that would meet some of those challenges.”
Shachar Karniel of the ARRA breeding programme from Grapa Varieties said that increasingly unpredictable climatic conditions, including late and abundant rainfall, had shown the wisdom of ARRA’s early efforts to breed for rain tolerance.
“It’s not enough to be early, it’s not enough to be good, you need to be at least tolerant to the rain,” he said. “Climate change has proven that our vision was right. When it comes to unexpected rain, the ARRA 15 is very tolerant. At Grapa we are looking at producing the same level of resistance in different colours and at different times of the year.”
Higgins said that rain resistance was also a focus at IFG, with Sweet Celebration and Sugar Crisp showing good tolerance.
“Table grapes are also one of the most labour-intensive crops around,” he added. “So as breeders we have an obligation to be thinking about how our varieties can contribute to that. What kind of pruning techniques are required, what kind of thinning is required, what kind of post-harvest handling is required to actually get that fruit in a punnet successfully? Today a lot falls on the grower, the marketer and the packhouse, but we know that there’s a genetic component to all of that.”
Breeding varieties to survive drier weather and through longer, more intense heat waves is an equally formidable challenge, according to Karniel.
“We are trying varieties in extreme regions to see their adaptability,” he said. “But you must have low-chilling varieties – this is the main factor for breeding resistance to drought conditions. The varieties must wake up in the spring easily, and for this you need low-chilling varieties. Second, especially for the white varieties, you need to be sure not to have sunburn.”
The California Table Grape Commission’s Alyson Dias revealed research showing that food choices had changed significantly due to Covid-19 as consumers continue to seek to boost their immune systems, creating opportunities for health messaging around grapes.
The same study, she said, showed that 86 per cent of respondents that had switched to buying grapes online during the pandemic would continue to do so, making digital forms of communication essential.
Speaking on organic grapes, Volkert Engelsman of Dutch organic supplier Eosta revealed that the organic grape category was still very underdeveloped.
“People tried in the past, but the varieties weren’t there and the growing conditions were challenging,” he explained. “But now with these new varieties that are more resilient and have a natural berry size and natural colour and don’t need Dormex to kickstart the season, that of course helps enormously to produce grapes organically. And since the market is developing fast, with a 25 per cent organic market share ambition defined by the EU, there’s enormous growth potential for organic grapes all of a sudden.”