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Kiwifruit growers urged to play waiting game

More growers are showing an interest in the small grape sized kiwifruit Actinidia arguta, but "have patience" is the word from HortResearch breeders because better selections are on the way.

A. arguta is the least known and grown of the three species of kiwifruit currently commercialised in New Zealand. HortResearch has two in particular, which are likely candidates for commercial development. At this stage the plant material is being bulked up and should be available in about 18 months.

The fruit are small green, hairless, sweet and luscious and can be eaten whole. The skin is very thin and the flesh is sweet, they are about the size of a large grape and are ideal for snacks, lunch-boxes, fruit salads, desserts, or as decoration.

Arguta is harvested in late February/early March, and some new selections can be cool-stored for at least two months and still have a shelf life of more than a week. That makes them suitable for both export and domestic markets.

HortResearch’s ongoing breeding goal is to create further selections with different harvest periods so cropping can be extended through to the end of April and marketing through to the end of June. Plant management strategies are being developed to optimise fruit yield and quality.

Found throughout most of China and also in north eastern Siberia, Korea and Japan, vines of A. arguta can survive much lower mid-winter temperatures than Hayward or the yellowed fleshed Hort16A, but also grow well in milder climates, including New Zealand.

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A. arguta is already grown in small quantities in the USA, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand. In America it is called Baby Kiwi, and the Chinese call it Soft Date mihoutao (kiwifruit).

Although varieties of A. arguta are already being grown in northern hemisphere countries, the two new superior selections from HortResearch should provide an edge for New Zealand growers, especially when they are protected by Plant Variety Rights (PVR).

Germplasm for A. arguta has been in New Zealand since the 1950’s with breeding and selection starting in the early 1980s.

Kiwifruit New Zealand has been jointly funding with HortResearch, a programme to help develop selections into marketable cultivars. Trialing and selection have focussed on fruit size and shape, vine yield, flavour and taste, and storage and shelf life.

There is still plenty of variation within the species in skin and flesh colour, harvest seasons and flavour and so future research is likely to lead to a greater range of varieties of this new kiwifruit.


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