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One selection showing promise in Washington State University’s cherry breeding program is an early variety that has better fruit quality characteristics than the current Chelan variety. It could be commercially available as early as 2016.

More than 25 advanced selections are in Phase 2 of the Washington State University’s cherry breeding program. The early-season selection mentioned above has made it to Phase 3, the final evaluation step of the program.

Although breeder Dr. Nnadozie Oraguzie declined to give many specifics about this elite selection, he described it as a suitable replacement for Chelan. The cross was made before he arrived, and it first fruited in 2009.

“The grower advisory committee was so impressed by this selection when they first saw it—harvest date is similar to Chelan but fruit is larger, firmer without gibberellic acid application, and it’s self-fertile—that they said ‘let’s fast-track this and move it right into Phase 3,’” he said.

Oraguzie said the early variety could be released by 2016, if all goes well and there are no surprises as data continue to be collected and evaluated.

Promising selections in Phase 2 of the program include two with powdery mildew resistance and could be suitable for mechanical harvesting.

While there was industry excitement several years ago regarding three powdery mildew-resistant varieties bred by a previous WSU breeder, Oraguzie said fruit quality of the selections, especially size and firmness, were lower than the threshold values developed for selections and they are not being considered for commercialization.

However, the selections have been used as parents for additional powdery mildew-resistant crosses. The two powdery mildew selections in Phase 2 are offspring of the three earlier powdery mildew-resistant crosses that showed promise.

The genotype showing promise for mechanical harvesting matures after the Selah variety. Fruit of the selection are firmer and have a lower pedicel retention force than Selah. Selah is currently the leading cultivar for growers who are ­working with mechanical harvest and ­marketing stem-free cherries.