Cherry breeding is slow work
Bob Andersen (left) is evaluating some 60,000 seedlings created from the breeding work of David Cain (right).
The cherry breeding program at Cornell University in New York was the largest public program in the nation when Dr. Bob Andersen retired in 2004. He left behind about 3,000 elite seedling sweet cherries and 1,000 or so elite plums and apricots he was evaluating for possible release as new varieties.
Dr. Susan Brown, who has roots as a stone fruit breeder but is now devoting her talents to apples, took on the task of finishing Andersen’s work—but there is no new stone fruit breeding work being done at Cornell.
The Cornell Center for Technology Enterprise and Commercialization, CCTEC, contracted the commercialization of all Cornell’s stone fruits for North America to International Plant Management, the Michigan company run by Wally Heuser and his daughter Wanda Heuser Gale. Wally Heuser has been a leader in the introduction of dwarfing apple rootstocks, the introduction of Gisela rootstocks for cherries, the marketing of privately bred peach varieties, and the development and commercialization of sports of existing apple varieties.
Plant breeding is slow work, Andersen says, and the commercialization process can be perilous. At Cornell, CCTEC was geared toward commercializing industrial processes and products and was slow at developing patents for stone fruits. Through his 20-year tenure at Cornell, only a few sweet cherry varieties were released—Hartland in 1992, Royalton in 1991, and BlackGold and WhiteGold in 2000. One tart cherry variety, Surefire, which blooms late and is red throughout, was released in 1994. None of these were from crosses Andersen made. They resulted from his predecessors’ breeding efforts at Cornell.
After making the connection with International Plant Management, the Heusers, with Andersen’s help, named and released six varieties—two for processing and four for fresh market. One processing variety is named Andersen and the other Nugent—named after Jim Nugent, who was Andersen’s cooperator at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Station and retired about the same time as Andersen.
The four most recently released fresh-market cherries all carry the name Pearl—BlackPearl, RadiancePearl, EbonyPearl, and BurgundyPearl. Of the Pearl series, only BlackPearl resulted from a cross Andersen made himself. BurgundyPearl and EbonyPearl resulted from crosses Susan Brown made when she first came to Cornell as the stone fruit breeder. “She made the crosses, and I selected and released them,” Andersen said.
Since Anderson’s retirement in 2004, the Heusers have been coordinating the evaluation of the Cornell stone fruit breeding products in North American orchard trials. Those that look good become candidates for release by Cornell in conjunction with the Heusers.