Better taste, lower carbon footprint than imports and more reliable disease-free growing are just some of the advantages of Elsoms new breakthrough F1 Hybrid strawberry variety Soraya, says the company’s Crop Specialist Claire Taylor.
Specifically bred for both summer and winter production with particularly strong performance under LED lights, the variety has performed consistently well over three years of trials and is now proving itself commercially, she says.
“Soraya is potentially one of the most important developments in British strawberry growing for many years. Latest Defra figures show the UK imports around 65,000 tonnes of strawberries every year worth £214M with the majority of these brought in outside of the traditional strawberry production period.
“Conventionally grown strawberries are usually available from June to July with the introduction of Everbearers extending this from March and into the Autumn, but with Soraya production can now be genuinely all year round. Furthermore, consumer testing has shown they are manifestly preferable to UK tastes than most imported varieties, being sweet bright red berries in the classic British strawberry style.
“With imported strawberries often coming from over 2000 miles away, British winter-grown strawberries have reduced food miles and a lower carbon footprint, particularly when rainwater harvesting and renewable energy systems are used in their production.”
Consumers, retailers, and policy makers are becoming increasingly sensitive to such issues, she adds.
Knowledge transfer partnership
The development of the variety has involved Elsoms working in partnership with Dutch strawberry experts, ABZ Seeds, Claire Taylor explains.
“We’ve been interested in strawberries for several years so when the opportunity arose to partner with ABZ, who work exclusively with strawberries and are so passionate about them, we knew our combined knowledge and resources could achieve something really special.
“So far, the relationship has delivered exclusive rights to three varieties, Estavana for outdoor gutter production, Rowena for open field production and Soraya for glasshouse production.
Somerset grower taps into year round potential
One of those growers excited about the potential of British winter grown strawberries is Somerset producer John Downes.
With his 18 ha Global Berry business based in Somerset and Lincolnshire, now supplying up to 12 tonnes of strawberries a week to retail multiples during the December to March period, keeping production going throughout the year opens up significant opportunities for his business, he says.
“Soraya is a game changer. It’s not just that it is now possible to grow strawberries through the winter, it is doing so in the knowledge we will always have the yields we need and at the quality required to command the best price.”