After 17 years of testing, tasting, harvesting and waiting, Prof. Courtney Weber, horticulture and plant breeding, finally released his latest strawberry variety — the Archer — on Monday.
Weber said the Archer is the eighth berry variety he has developed at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva since coming to Cornell in 1999. He has developed three raspberry varieties and four other strawberry varieties, the most recent being the Walker variety — currently being sold under the name Purple Wonder — and the Herriot, both released in 2012.
Weber said the Archer has been in the making since the very beginning.
“[Archer’s] actual seed was developed in 1999 but not planted until 2000, so it’s been kind of a long haul for this one,” Weber said. “It was selected in 2001 and finally released in 2016, so 15 years.”
Although Archer’s development took the longest to develop of any of his berry varieties, Weber said any berry project requires a significant time investment.
Breeding begins with one seed, which yields one plant, according to Weber. One year later, that single plant produces 10 to 20 daughter plants called “runners.” A year after that, the runners are planted and after yet another year, their fruit is able to be collected. The process is then repeated multiple times.
“Each time you do that you take a couple of years to go through the process and each time you want to look at the fruit again to make sure everything is going well,” Weber explained. “You want to check [the strawberries] in the field in different locations to make sure there’s not some disease out there you haven’t seen.”
However, even with constant attention, things can go wrong. Weber stressed the need to breed seeds that can withstand adverse conditions.
“We want to have some confidence when we release [the seed] to the growers that it will have the ability to grow in many different locations and climates where it varies from year to year,” he said.
Resistance to insects and disease in particular is allocated significant attention throughout the testing process. Weber said that his team ensures the plants are disease-free by testing them in the lab.
“We can test them for various diseases to make sure that when we send them to people and various growers we’re not sending out anything that could be detrimental to their farms,” Weber said.
Beyond its hardiness and resistance to insects and disease, what makes the Archer so remarkable is its extreme size and strong, sweet flavor, according to Weber.
“[Archer] stood out from the very beginning because it has very large fruit,” Weber said. “So of course that’s something that catches the eye very easily.”
Oftentimes, there is a tradeoff between size and taste. One of the biggest challenges fruit breeders face is creating large fruit that also tastes good.
“When we tasted this one it was a very high-flavored berry,” he said. “When we get that combination [of size and taste], that’s very exciting to see.”