Farmers wanted for dwarf grape vines that fruit all year round

Farmers wanted for dwarf grape vines that fruit all year round

Horticulture
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An unexpected by-product and a "pleasant surprise" of the dwarfing gene is it allows the vine to continuously fruit - and yes, the grapes are a normal size.

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AUSTRALIA'S lead science agency is looking for farmers interested in growing a dwarf breed of grape vines that continuously fruit all year round.

When the CSIRO discovered a naturally-occurring dwarfing gene in a very old wine grape variety, the CSIRO cross bred it in to table grapes to create the microvines.

An unexpected by-product and a "pleasant surprise" of the dwarfing gene is it allows the vine to continuously fruit, if provided the right conditions.

Initially the discovery was used as a research tool, allowing scientists to breed different varieties with special traits in a shorter amount of time.

However, CSIRO business development manager Susan Hani said they were now considering its commercial application.

In Australia, the fresh grape season runs for six to seven months, starting in November, peaking in February and March, and closing in May.

Australia is a significant importer of grapes from the United States from June to December.

Dr Hani said there was a opportunity to supply fresh grapes all year round, both domestically and internationally, and the CSIRO was looking for businesses to partner with.

"We've talked to a few companies, and one in particular has shown interest," she said.

Dr Hani said the vine's small stature and continuous fruiting made them ideal to greenhouse operations and could be trained to grow vertical or laterally, similar to tomatoes.

When microvines are grown in a greenhouse, the control conditions allow the plants to the continuous flowering and fruiting all year round.

The plants are only dwarf in vine size and their yield is comparable to field-grown table grapes.

"The grapes are slightly smaller than the really big ones you see in the shops, but you wouldn't necessarily think they are an abnormally small grape," Dr Hani said.

There are a number of other benefits to micro vines - the greenhouses can be used in areas where the land is not suitable for field crops, while also offering protection from weather and pests.

They offer flexibility to rotate varieties, and their rapid growth means farmers wouldn't lose time planting or switching to others varieties, with a microvines fruiting in six months as opposed to three years for field-grown grapes.

The CSIRO is even considering introducing the microvines to nurseries to be sold as household plants.

"Every time I showed the photos to some, they said 'that's cute, I want to buy one'," Dr Hani said, with a laugh.

"They may not have the same continuous production, but they would be right at home in a small pot plant on the balcony or in the home garden."

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