Scientists unlock secret to growing seedless lychee
Chinese scientists have made breakthroughs in the cultivation of seedless lychees that should boost production efficiency and reduce costs, the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agricultural Sciences said.
The world's only seedless lychee variety, first bred in South China's Hainan province in 1997, has a reddish-pink colour, crystal-clear flesh and a unique flavour compared with the traditional “feizixiao” lychee variety, according to Gao Zhaoyin, a member of the academy's lychee and longan research team.
Due to a poor harvest this year, a single box of 48 seedless lychees is selling for as much as 550 yuan (2,900 baht, or 60 baht per fruit) – more than double the price in a normal year.
"We sell 500 to 1,000 boxes a day at the peak of the 15-day harvest season starting in early June," Gao said.
Although seedless lychees are more expensive than the traditional variety, they normally sell out fast because of limited production.
Seedless lychee cultivation has encountered obstacles such as bloom failure in warm winters or fruit cracking or falling prematurely from the branch. Between 40 and 90 per cent of the fruit is lost before harvest each year, hitting farmers in the pocket.
Many in Hainan gave up growing the seedless variety, and orchards have shrunk to an area of no more than 467 hectares.
Gao said his team has successfully developed techniques to force flowering and prevent fruit from cracking and dropping from the tree too early, breaking the technical bottleneck of cultivating seedless lychees.
"We have been tackling the problems since 2013 and, despite the conditions, obtained stable yields this year on our demonstration base in Chengmai county," he said.
The techniques have been applied on 13.3 hectares at a demonstration farm. This year, the average yield reached 17 tonnes per hectare, with the rate of premature drop decreasing to 4.5 per cent and 96.1 per cent of the fruit crack-free.
About 86.1 per cent of the fruit can go to market, double the amount in 2013.
"The plantation area of seedless lychee will be increased to as much as 3,333 hectares in five years," Gao said.
He added that Hainan’s seedless lychee industry is expected to generate annual economic benefits of between 800 million and 2 billion yuan.
"Hopefully, seedless lychees will be sold at 40 yuan per kilo in the future when more people will buy the unique fruit at reasonable prices," Gao said.
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