Introducing a new berry into the country – a challenging task
If the name, Haskap Berry is new to you, it wasn’t that long ago that Denise Wilcockson could say the same thing. She and husband, Howard had a publishing business in WA before retiring, bought a small rural property at Garden Island Creek in Southern Tasmania in 2013 and moved there in 2016. Having bought the property, they wanted to do something with it. Being from WA they confess to having had an exaggerated idea as to how cold Tasmania is. Howard researched cold weather berries to discover Haskap Berries, a berry extremely high in nutritional value and very tolerant to cold weather as it can grow in down to minus 40 degrees.
‘Initially, we hadn’t realised they weren’t grown in Australia’, Denise said. ‘But after discovering they’re extremely popular in Japan where they cannot grow enough of them and that a massive amount of research was being done by the University of Saskatchewan with the aim of Canada exporting them to Japan, we thought Tasmania could supply in the opposite season to Canada.’
‘And so, our venture began, beginning with Quarantine Tasmania for permission to bring them into the country. After extensive research, Quarantine Tasmania gave the directive to only bring them into the country via seed. The challenge began here as once we had seed, we discovered they are not easy to propagate and nor do they grow true to type from seed. In 2017 we attended a conference on Haskap Berries at the University of Saskatchewan, met some wonderful people and learnt a lot. While there we obtained better quality seed to bring back to Australia. We had Agriculture Department papers for this so there were no problems in getting through customs. At this stage we decided to become a nursery, introducing them into Australia for home and commercial growers as our property is not large enough for commercial growing.’
‘The business has been named ‘Haskaps of Oz. A few years later we had young plants ready to plant in the paddock to trial. Because Haskap Berries don’t grow true to type from seed the trialing has been long and somewhat tedious – with each plant being recorded for fruit flavour, yield, growth habit etc. Our initial evaluations were greatly assisted by some wonderful people whom we met in Canada. They came over at harvest time, evaluated flavours with us and helped select plants for developing via tissue culture propagation. And so, after 9 years, we have our first release of seedlings this year.’
‘The interesting thing about Haskap Berries is their nutritional value. They’re purple skin -much the same colour as a Blueberry, though larger and with deep purple juice. Their antioxidant level is 4 times that of a Blueberry with anthocyanin content 130 times higher, so they are regarded as a ‘super food’. Apart from fresh fruit, they’re wonderful for jams, chutneys, marinades, chocolates, liqueurs, and wine. We’ve experimented with all this, except for the wine, I have obtained a ‘small produce’ liquor licence and making our own Haskap Liqueur, it’s incredibly popular being sold at markets. Young plants are now coming on stream from the tissue culturing, so after a lengthy process Haskap Berry plants are now becoming available for people living in colder climate localities’.