Apricot researcher earns award

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Building a better fruit is the aim of research associate Claire Scofield, of Clyde.

Her work at Plant & Food Research , a Crown research institute based in Clyde, has led to her winning the Mack Nicol award for excellence, presented at the recent Summerfruit New Zealand conference in Nelson.

“It was a complete surprise. It was presented at the conference dinner and I had no idea that I was receiving it,” Miss Scofield said.

This was the first time it had been awarded to a researcher instead of a grower or marketer.

Her work included researching new varieties of apricots, provisionally called “NZ summer 2 and NZ summer 3”, focusing on “all the quality characteristics of those particular cultivars”.

The aim was to develop new varieties that would not only grow better and handle better during picking and packing but also be enjoyed by consumers.

So far, consumer surveys had indicated their new varieties of apricots were rated more highly than current varieties.

“So we are definitely on the right track with the breeding side of apricots, so it is really exciting to be part of.”

“We are hoping the whole process now is going to be involved around quality, and then marketing that new product.”

Another aspect of Miss Scofield’s research was the Future Orchard Planting Systems (Fops) programme, which involved developing planting systems to increase yields of cherries and apricots.

The system used a planar canopy, meaning trees were grown to be narrow but evenly distributed, enabling sunlight to reach every part of the tree.

Miss Scofield had been involved throughout the five-year project, which ends this year.

“I’d say it’s been pretty successful so far.”

A major part of her research in the Fops programme was researching how sunlight reached under the tree canopy.

Miss Scofield will present her paper on “Light interception of planar canopies” at the International Society for Horticultural Science conference in Istanbul during August.

“It’s a small proportion of the greater project, but quite an interesting one.

“It is a small comparison to a conventional-style system, and any interaction between yields and quality with the system treatments.”

Future projects included beginning her master of science degree in horticulture.

“At this stage I really want to look at the light interception side of the planar canopies as well as increasing fruit quality.”

“With the award it’s a strong focus on quality and that’s what we are hoping to do.”

The summerfruit industry was “exciting, I’m really excited by it”, Miss Scofield said.

“We know that we love these new varieties and we want everyone else to experience them too.”