Tomatoes, it is said, are the quintessence of summer in a bite. They are also responsible for more than half a billion dollars in annual farm gate sales and are Canada’s biggest fresh vegetable export. Canadian growers are facing competition due to lower production costs in other regions, leading to difficulties maintaining their market share. Canadian producers need to innovate in order to offer a differentiated product that will give them a competitive edge.
Generally, plant breeding programs focus on production traits, such as yield or disease resistance. Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) is working with Dr. Charles Goulet of Université Laval to ensure new tomato varieties possess these traits, in addition to something more important to the consumer – flavour. Flavour is a complex trait, reflecting sugar, acid and aroma, as well as texture. Because aroma is defined by more than 30 volatile chemicals and dozens of genes, genomics can greatly facilitate breeding with much greater precision than ever before. This project will use variation in aroma-related genes to develop new tomatoes with differentiated flavour. The resulting plant lines will be used to breed tasty tomatoes at Vineland, and will be made available to other tomato breeders. The first varieties should be commercially available within three years of the project’s completion.
The development of locally-adapted, flavourful tomato cultivars will give Canadian greenhouse producers a clear advantage in a competitive consumer market, with total direct economic benefits estimated at more than $30 million per year.