Summertime means it’s cherry season in the Okanagan Valley, but the fruit-bearing trees don’t produce succulent and sweet cherries year after year by chance.
It’s thanks to science.
The Summerland Research and Development Centre is where 80 per cent of the world’s cherries originate.
“A vast majority of the cherry varieties grown across the world are Summerland varieties,” said Dr. Amrit Singh, a research scientist at the centre.
For decades, scientists have been cross-breeding varieties by pulling together the best traits to create a better quality cherry.
“The newer varieties that we develop have resistance against disease, they have better fruit size, they have a unique maturity date,” said Singh.
Biologist Chris Pagliocchini said there is huge demand from international orchardists who want to grow Summerland cherries by obtaining the buds to grow their own trees.
To protect Canadian interests there are restrictions on non-Canadian fruit growers.
“We’re funded by the Canadian government so obviously Canadian producers are first priority,” he said.
It’s all managed by the Summerland Varieties Corporation.
The company is owned by the BC Fruit Growers’ Association which struck a deal in the 1990’s with the federal government to commercialize cherry varieties bred at the research station.
Keith Carlson is the former president and owns more than 100 acres of cherry trees in Summerland.
“Eighty-five percent of my cherries go either to Europe or Asia,” Carlson said. “It’s very large demand right now and I don’t see that really dropping off in the future.”
The more that are commercially grown, the more money from royalties is funneled back into research.
Scientists say creating the perfect fruit would be the cherry on top.
“There will always be more work to do,” Singh said.