Lemon farmers in Hiroshima prefecture have been striving to develop heart-shaped fruit since 1998. The process involves placing the fruit into a heart-shaped mould before it ripens.
Growers have struggled to retain fruit quality, however, as the fruit tends to rot or burst in the mould.
The Mihara Citrus Fruit Company, in eastern Hiroshima prefecture, produced a crop of heart-shaped lemons by cradling the fruit inside a V-shaped wedge while young, then placing a cylinder on top of it as it grew.
Approximately half the lemons emerged as planned and could be sliced into cross-sections with a distinct heart shape. The rest, however, were unusable.
To tackle this problem, researchers at the Hiroshima Prefectural Technology Research Institute developed a new heart-shaped mould for the fruit. This has produced a 70% success rate.
Tim Grout, research and technical manager at Citrus Research International, told Farmer’s Weekly that funding this type of niche-market research would be difficult in South Africa.
“The research funding that is available is spent primarily on retaining established markets and establishing new markets for known, high-quality cultivars grown by the majority of exporting citrus farmers who pay the research levy,” he said.
“The challenges that our industry faces on a continual basis all require out-of-the-ordinary solutions and that’s how our growers stay ahead on international markets.”