Raspberry growers left feeling blue

For years the growing of raspberries has, along with strawberries, been one of the mainstays of the Scottish soft fruit industry but now after a couple of difficult seasons for rasp growers a newcomer has taken over the number two slot in economic importance.

Blueberry sales in the UK surged ahead to £164 million last year, a rise of 16 per cent on the previous 12 months while raspberry sales topped at £135m with only a marginal increase in sales.

The problem for supermarkets selling raspberries is that they do not have the shelf life of blueberries, which also have the cachet of being a very healthy food, according to Stuart Stubbins.

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Having spent his career with top supermarket Marks & Spencer, Stubbins now works as an independent consultant in the soft fruit industry, and is chairman of the Raspberry Breeding Consortium based at the James Hutton Institute at Dundee.

Stubbins said that one of the reasons raspberry sales were now lagging behind blueberries was because better varieties were not coming forward fast enough.

In expressing his frustration at the length of time it takes to bring new raspberry varieties to the supermarket shelves, he stated that he, as a marketeer, found it “overly exhaustive”.

“There is a tendency to test for years,” he said. “The institute needs to take a few risks and get new varieties to the market more quickly.”

He was also critical of the scientific system of using numbers for upcoming varieties, saying that if they were named there would be more interest from buyers.

Stubbins’ comments were given an added piquancy when Peter Thomson of Blairgowrie, a stalwart of the soft fruit industry for many years and a former convenor of the NFU soft fruit committee, announced that he was grubbing out all of his raspberry and strawberry crops leaving only his 60 acres of blueberries for the future.

Thomson admitted that part of the problem was the lack of a suitable raspberry variety in the short window in the market when Scottish growers are the main suppliers in the UK. The supermarkets do not like Octavia and that only leaves Driscolls Maravilla, which apart from being a controlled variety, is not suitable for Scottish conditions.

Despite the criticism on varieties, visitors to the institute yesterday were shown the latest breeding breakthrough with genetic markers being identified in helping to eliminate the scourge of root rot which has plagued growers for the past 30 years.