Partnership Shares Genetics for Earlier Ripening Sweet Cherries

Sun World International, a global fruit genetics and licensing company, and Washington State University have joined forces to develop a new generation of high flavor sweet cherries that ripen earlier and are more practical to grow.

Horticulture Associate Professor and Stone Fruit Breeder Per McCord and Sun World scientists are sharing germplasm from promising cherry varieties under a new research collaboration launched this spring.

The agreement allows researchers to exchange and study genetic material from their respective collections aimed at speeding up breeding and release of improved varieties for orchards in the Pacific Northwest, California, the greater Northwest, and worldwide.

“Pursuing partnerships such as the WSU and Sun World collaboration is a key priority and helps ensure that we remain leaders in the industry. We continue to focus on partnerships that enable us to develop varieties that meet the demands of growers and consumers in a dynamic marketplace,” said Jennifer Petersen, Chief Science Officer at Sun World.

“Sun World has desirable germplasm, and we have material that they can benefit from,” McCord said. “Now, we’re able to share our parental varieties for new crosses, and potentially, high quality releases.”

“In addition to supporting research between a public university and a private company, our combined research efforts will result in the development of novel cherry varieties with strong consumer appeal and desirable to growers. And through our global network, we will enable growers around the world to produce these WSU-Sun World varieties. Sun World’s Sweet Cherry Breeder and Molecular Specialist, Dr. Terrence Frett said.

Germplasm is genetic material found inside pollen and seeds. Plants exchange germplasm to reproduce, and fruit breeders seek out promising parent plants with desired traits, crossing them with other varieties to develop new and better varieties.

Cherry breeding at WSU dates to the 1950s, when USDA Scientist Howard Fogle developed the Rainier cherry, released in 1960 and now the most popular sweet variety in Washington State. Today, McCord seeks cherries with large fruit size, excellent firmness and flavor, superb postharvest qualities, and cracking and disease resistance adapted to the cooler climates of the Pacific Northwest.

Sun World’s germplasm has been developed over a 17-year period with the same objectives, and an added focus on developing low- and mid-chill cherry varieties adaptable to the hot California climate and similar regions around the world, offering cherry varieties with better consistency in quality that are less susceptible to sunburn, heat damage and sutures, a defect that causes a deep cleft in the fruit.

Being able to harvest a variety early in the season is an especially desired trait as it expands the window of availability and offers higher value to growers.

Development of new varieties takes a decade or more, as breeders like WSU and Sun World compare and winnow out hundreds of different crosses in a series of orchard trials.

Potentially saving time in this long process, the partnership also offers opportunities for dialogue and collaboration in breeding and research. Both programs continue to expand their knowledge and use of DNA molecular markers associated with important breeding traits, Frett said, noting the benefits of improving efficiency, reducing costs, and further adapting cherry varieties to the complex challenges of climate change.

“I’m excited to bring in Sun World’s ultra-early and early cherry material,” McCord said. “This new material will help extend our program further into the early Pacific Northwest season, further adapt to a changing environment, and provide new, grower-friendly cherry varieties to our growers.”

Sun World International is a global variety development and licensing business. Sun World’s mission is to drive the growth of fruit breeding, varietal development, and licensing. The California-based company has a network of licensed growers and marketers and maintains offices in the United States, Europe, Australia, South America, Israel, North Africa, and South Africa. More information about Sun World International is available at

Founded in 1890, Washington State University is Washington’s public land-grant research and teaching institution. As a leading federal research university, rated in the top 11% of research institutions nationally, WSU delivers practical research and education to Washington communities to support and grow the state’s economy. Through WSU Extension, the university reaches all 39 counties statewide as well as the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. WSU works with Washington’s $6 billion tree fruit industry to improve apples, pears, sweet cherries, and many other valuable crops and commodities. Learn more at