New EU project to improve quality and efficiency of berry fruit production in Europe

Fresh berries are highly popular in Europe all year around: In recent years, consumer demand for fresh berries outside the main production season has increased significantly. Strategically important berries for the EU market, such as strawberries, raspberries or black currant, are grown in Europe itself, but demand is much higher than European production capacity and the market relies on imports from developing countries to fill the gap. In order to strengthen the competitiveness of European berry production, and to ensure high fruit quality – despite varying local cultivation conditions across Europe – new tools and cultivation techniques are needed. This is where the new EU research project GoodBerry comes into play.

Coordinated by the University of Málaga, GoodBerry aims to further improve our knowledge of the procedures that facilitate and accelerate the development of well-accepted, desirable and high-quality berry fruits – even under non-favourable growth conditions such as high temperatures. Focusing on strawberry, raspberry and black currant as model crop species, the project with a total budget of €4.87 million will investigate mechanisms and new factors impacting on yield, thus allowing the design of strategies for improved adaptability of fruit production to non-optimal environmental conditions. This will help making production more controllable and more robust in the future. “The innovative aspect of GoodBerry is that it takes into consideration, in an unprecedented way, all developmental processes impacting on yield, including flower initiation and dormancy, to deliver new technical solutions for economic, sustainable and effective berry production in Europe”, says Dr Sonia Osorio from the University of Málaga and coordinator of GoodBerry.

The project is based on the development of an integrative, multi-scale strategy to identify new molecular factors (metabolites/genes/alleles/loci) conferring the capacity to maintain high yield performance and high fruit quality in extreme environmental conditions. While the use of novel methodologies for genetic improvement of berries in different environments is still absent in current breeding programmes, GoodBerry will build on novel molecular tools to apply cutting-edge genomic and metabolomics based approaches to deliver holistic solutions addressing the challenges of increasing productivity efficiency, crop resilience and food quality in the light of climate changes.

GoodBerry brings together 19 partnering institutions from Europe, China and Chile. The consortium comprises internationally renowned academic groups with extensive experience in plant breeding, plant genomics, and plant metabolite profiling, as well as innovative small and medium-sized technology companies active in the berry-breeding sector. Moreover, pursuing a demand-driven innovation approach GoodBerry involves various stakeholder groups such as berry farmer associations and breeders at all stages of the project – from idea to application.