A cherry variety developed in Summerland has received international accolades.
The American Society for Horticultural Science presented Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada with its Outstanding Fruit Cultivar Award 2012 for the Sweetheart cherry.
“Our government is proud to support internationally-recognized research and innovation in cherry breeding,” said Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.
The cherry originated from a cross between Van and Newstar cherries in 1975 at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland.
The breeder was David Lane and the technician was Richard MacDonald.
The cherry was released in 1995. New cherry varieties normally take 15 to 20 years before they are released.
Cheryl Hampson, a research scientist at the centre, said the Sweetheart cherry is harvested around July 30, or 10 days after the Lapins cherry, another Summerland variety.
The Lapins and Sweetheart cherries are two of the most important cherry varieties for Okanagan growers.
Hampson said the Sweetheart has been used in breeding other late-season cherries, including Staccato, Sentennial and Sovereign.
The original Sweetheart tree is still producing fruit at the centre.
Hampson said there are several benefits to the Sweetheart cherry.
“The fruit eating quality is good and it’s easy to grow,” she said. “One of its big advantages is the harvest time.”
The late harvest means the cherry comes out after the early Washington cherries have been harvested.
Cherry research has been done at the Summerland facility for many years.
“I am honoured to be following in the footsteps of some really amazing cherry breeders,” Hampson said.
Research is continuing into new varieties. Hampson said one of her current goals is to find something more disease resistant and more split resistant.
British Columbia cherries are exported to the United States, Asia and Europe.
Cherry exports were around $500,000 annually in the 1990s but have grown to almost $40 million annually today.