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Australia: The issue of berry crumble

Crumbly fruit in raspberries is more than just a crummy problem. It’s a costly disorder that leads to yield loss and food waste. In raspberries, crumbly fruit have a reduced number of drupelets that are unevenly distributed and do not hold together, causing the berry to crumble when picked.

The reason why some raspberries fail to form fully and end up falling apart at the slightest touch is still mostly unknown. University of Tasmania Agricultural Science student Olivia Cripps is piecing together clues to help solve this serious problem.

Two years ago, the team at Costa berries in North West Tasmania noticed an increased occurrence of crumbly fruit during a heat wave. So, with support from Costa, Olivia is now testing a theory: do high temperatures and low humidity affect flower and fruit formation and lead to crumbly fruit?

To do this, she is growing raspberries out of season in the middle of winter, under lights in a cosy greenhouse to fool the plants into thinking it is summer. Then the plants are moved to a heat-controlled system and the temperature gauge is bumped up to 32 degrees Celsius for 48 hours.

“What I am looking for is whether this impacts on the flowers – whether the pollen itself loses viability, the stigma (the female part of the flower) becomes unreceptive or the pollen tube doesn’t grow properly down the style to fertilise the ovary,” Olivia said.

She will also follow the progress of some tagged flowers and buds right through to fruiting to see whether they crumble.

“I chose the project because I have always enjoyed plant science and looking at flower stages and pollen really sparked my interest,” Olivia said. “I love the balance between the field work and lab work. It is also fun to work in the controlled environments.”

Compared to other areas of study, Olivia feels that studying Agricultural Science means that she’s valued for her knowledge.

“You have a feeling that people want your knowledge. They want you. The industry is so supportive of young people and they really want to see you succeed.”

And this isn’t just a feeling. The support students receive from industry is unmatched – from work experience and job opportunities to over $300,000 in scholarships.

This year, Olivia was the lucky recipient of the $10,000 Costa Honours Scholarship in Agricultural Science and her honours research is also supported by Costa.

“The scholarship has been super helpful with travel and time off work because I am living in the North West and travelling to Hobart,” Olivia said.

“Scholarships also provide a different kind of support, it feels like industry is backing you up.”

When Olivia graduates later this year, she says she is looking forward to a career with variety and a job where she can help individuals and industry.

“You can branch out and you have different options in where you can go after studying. You can find a job where you really make a difference,” Olivia said.

“For women as well, agriculture is really great. It encourages change and development and it gives you lots of options for the future.”

“I could end up working in a vineyard or a berry company, in a lab, as a researcher or as a consultant. I love that there are such a range of options for my career.

Source: Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture


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