Cornell's new raspberry variety, Crimson Giant, is fashionably late. Developed by Cornell berry breeder and associate professor of horticulture Courtney Weber, Crimson Giant was developed specifically for the New York climate and can extend the harvest window for fresh, local raspberries to the beginning of November.
"Consumer disbelief is the real challenge for Crimson Giant," said Weber, who works at Cornell's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y. "They are not accustomed to seeing locally produced raspberries that late in the fall, and they might assume the seller has put a 'local foods' sticker on berries from California."
The berry has all the attributes of high-quality commercial fruit: true raspberry flavor and firm, bright red berries that don't darken quickly in storage. The fruit is large, averaging 4.5 grams in its New York trial, a significant increase over the 2-3 gram berries in other varieties.
In local trials, Crimson Giant begins ripening in late September or early October, three weeks later than the widely grown Cornell variety Heritage. Weber reports that during the traditional fall raspberry harvest, Crimson Giant is still flowering.
The late harvest requires a protected production system such as high tunnels to shield the flowers and fruit from fall frost. Already widely used for summer tomato production in New York state, high tunnels are structures composed of hoops of metal or plastic covered by plastic sheeting. Unlike greenhouses, they do not have a foundation and are generally not heated. Drip irrigation supplies the necessary moisture to support plant growth.
"Raspberry yield in high tunnel systems can be many times higher than field-grown plants, due in part to the lower incidence of diseases like gray mold, the ability to grow plants at a higher density and the mitigation of wind that can damage plants," said Marvin Pritts, chair and professor of horticulture. "The berries are often larger, and the need to manage most pests, diseases and weeds is lower than in the field."
Crimson Giant is expected to be a boon for growers seeking to enlarge their market share and command premium prices for berries in the late season, when apples outnumber them at the farm stands and farmers' markets.
Growers interested in planting a trial to evaluate the variety can contact the Cornell Center for Technology Enterprise and Commercialization (CCTEC) for a list of licensed nurseries.
"Sourcing through licensing helps to ensure growers are testing disease-free, high-quality plants," said Jessica Lyga, CCTEC's plant variety and germplasm licensing liaison. "The royalty revenue, in turn, supports breeding of the next varieties."
Licensing is now a common way for Cornell varieties to enter the marketplace. Wheat, cucumbers, strawberries, squash, potatoes, plums, peppers, melons, grapes, cherries, corn, apples and apple rootstocks, and ornamentals such as Alstroemeria are also available for trials and production though licensing.
"Funding for plant breeding has been cut at the state level, and much plant breeding has become privatized," said Lyga. "Cornell is committed to continue breeding crops adapted to local growing conditions, expanding the availability of local foods and increasing the market share for regional growers."
The Cornell small fruits breeding program was established at the Agricultural Experiment Station in 1882. Since then, breeders have produced more than 80 red and black raspberry, blackberry and strawberry varieties for production in New York and abroad. Notable varieties include the Heritage raspberry and Jewel strawberry, which have become industry standards in the Northeast. Two new strawberries are slated for release for the 2012 season.
Amanda Garris is a freelance writer in Geneva, N.Y.