Two alumni of the Faculty of AgriSciences were honoured at the 2020 Deciduous Fruit Industry Excellence Awards for their ability to put agricultural research into practice. Phyllis Burger and Andries Daniel are both part of the Agricultural Research Council's breeding and evaluation team. They were recognised for their exceptional work on a dried grape variety, Sundowner, and for their contribution to the South African raisin grape industry in the process.
The duo received the award in the research and technology division of the annual awards, now in its 45th year.
Burger has already enjoyed a long career at the ARC. She enrolled at Stellenbosch University in 1980 to study towards a BSc Agric in Plant Pathology. In 1985 she completed an honours degree, followed with a MSc Agric cum laude in 1992. Daniels completed a BSc in Viticulture and Oenology in 2005, followed by an honours degree in 2008 and a MSc Agric in Viticulture in 2013. He is currently working towards his PhD in Viticulture.
According to a press release by the industry body HORTGRO, the South African raisin grape industry had up till recently depended mainly on a single cultivar, namely Sultana. However, it had shortcomings. Although other cultivars became available from international breeding programmes, South African conditions are unique and no suitable replacement for Sultana had yet been available.
Over the past three decades, the Dried Fruit Industry and the ARC have partnered in a breeding and evaluation research initiative to develop new raisin grape cultivars under local climatic conditions. The grape cultivar, Sundowner, was a result of this, and is the first ever South African bred raisin cultivar to be commercially registered with the registrar of plant breeders' rights of South Africa.
The name Sundowner was chosen because the reddish blush on the ripe berries resembles the colours of a sunset. Sundowner was launched earlier this year by the ARC, RaisinsSA, and Culdevco Pty Ltd, at a cultivar information day near Upington.
As with most breeding projects, the development of new cultivars is a time-consuming process starting with the performing of hand pollinations, rescuing the embryos from seedless grapes and growing these embryos into viable plants in tissue culture. These seedlings are then planted out in tunnels to acclimatise, whereafter they are planted in seedling blocks.
The particular cultivar was selected in 2002 and promoted to semi-commercialisation in 2006. Plant breeders' rights were applied for in 2017 and awarded in 2019. It has been a long yet successful road since 1994, when the first crosses were made.
Photo: SU alumni Phyllis Burger and Andries Daniels of the Agricultural Research Council with their excellence awards from the South African Deciduous Fruit Industry. Photo: supplied