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Pick of the bunch: first crop of climate change resilient blackcurrants

Hutton research developed climate-resilient blackcurrant varieties (c) LRS
“We are delighted to see the first commercial crop of Ben Lawers this year. Hopefully this cultivar will pioneer innovation in climate resilient crop category, deliver exceptional quality and make the way for further climate-resilient cultivars that are currently on trials at the Institute”

This week, UK blackcurrant farmers are harvesting a groundbreaking new crop of berries that have been bred to cope with Britain’s changing climate. Named ‘Ben Lawers’, the new variety is the fruit of a longstanding partnership between Lucozade Ribena Suntory, which uses 90 per cent of Britain’s blackcurrants to make Ribena, and the world-leading research centre the James Hutton Institute.

The culmination of 20 years of research, 75,000 bushes of the Ben Lawers blackcurrants are fruiting for the first time this year, adding a special excitement to the harvest. Grown across the UK from Somerset and Kent to the West Midlands and Dundee, blackcurrants are a £10m crop with upwards of 10,000 tonnes harvested every year during July and August.

Blackcurrants are particularly at risk from the UK’s changing climate, where winters have been gradually getting warmer. The bushes require a ‘winter chill’ in order to bear fruit come summertime - a process known as vernalisation. As our winters warm, soft fruits such as blackcurrants will have to adapt to shorter, milder chilling. Lucozade Ribena Suntory has invested over £10m in work with the James Hutton Institute, including recent investment of £500,000 to continue the research into climate change that began 20 years ago and is producing first fruits today.

Harriet Prosser, agronomist at Lucozade Ribena Suntory, comments: “This year’s harvest sees farmers reaping the rewards as 20 years of research comes to fruition in. Thanks to continued hard work and research, this breed of blackcurrant is now ready for juicing on a large scale to produce that classic Ribena taste. Harvest is always the most exciting time of the year but this time around it promises to be doubly rewarding.This year’s weather has demonstrated why we need to be on the front-foot in adapting to a changing climate.”

Dr Dorota Jarret, a soft fruit breeder at the James Hutton Institute’s commercial subsidiary, James Hutton Ltd, added:We are delighted to see the first commercial crop of Ben Lawers this year. Hopefully this cultivar will pioneer innovation in climate resilient crop category, deliver exceptional quality and make the way for further climate-resilient cultivars that are currently on trials at the James Hutton Institute thanks to Lucozade Ribena Suntory’s recent investment.”

Jo Hilditch, a blackcurrant grower and head of the Blackcurrant Foundation who is growing the new variety of climate-change resilient berries, comments: We have experienced some challenging weather conditions this year after a very warm winter and the driest May on record. Thankfully, the June showers followed by some warm weather has helped all our blackcurrant breeds and we are looking forward to a lovely sweet crop that will deliver the distinctive taste Ribena fans know and love.” 

Blackcurrants have been bred at the James Hutton Institute since 1956 and now account for approximately half of the blackcurrants grown in the world. Hutton varieties are instantly recognisable as they are all named after Scottish mountains and have the “Ben” prefix. Varieties bred at the Institute have an estimated 95% market share in the UK, and for the last 30 years the majority of this crop has been used in the production of Ribena.

Blackcurrant farmers and Ribena lovers aren’t the only ones to benefit from the latest crop of berries. As part of the company’s Growing For Good vision, growers who work with Lucozade Ribena Suntory are required to put a Biodiversity Action Plan in place to support wildlife on their farms. This year, the 35 farmers counted 70 species of birds on their farms and in one week saw over 4,500 individual birds. Some of these feathered friends will undoubtedly be helping themselves to a juicy blackcurrant or two as the harvest begins, but Ribena farmers keep the bushes unnetted to share the bounty.

Notes to editors

Lucozade Ribena Suntory is one the leading soft drinks businesses in the UK and Ireland. LRS was formed in 2014, and is part of Suntory Beverage & Food Europe. Their much-loved soft drinks brands include Lucozade Energy, Lucozade Sport, Fitwater, Ribena, Orangina and True Nopal Cactus Water. Their business is driven by the Yatte Minahare spirit and their role is to have a positive impact on the lives of consumers by providing them with a responsible choice of great-tasting drinks, enabling them to lead active lifestyles. For further information, please visit: www.lrsuntory.com and to find out more about LRS’s biodiversity commitments, go to https://www.lrsuntory.com/sustainability/biodiversity/.

James Hutton Limited is the James Hutton Institute’s commercial subsidiary, providing a comprehensive range of analytical, research and development, breeding, and consultancy services to global customers and collaborators. www.huttonltd.com.

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, James Hutton Institute, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).


Printed from /news/pick-bunch-first-crop-climate-change-resilient-blackcurrants on 10/08/20 09:02:06 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.