On the outside, the "Taiwan Farmer No. 3" lychee variety looks much like any other: It is a small, rounded fruit with a leathery, dusky-red skin that is rough to the touch. However, a gentle squeeze yields a surprise as the fruit's skin splits in half lengthwise, allowing the flesh of the fruit to be popped straight into one's mouth.
This feature, which allows lychee-lovers to avoid the messy process of peeling the fruit from the stem end, was no happy accident but the result of decades of hard work, said Chang Jer-way (張哲瑋), chief researcher on the project undertaken by the Chiayi Agricultural Research Institute (ARI).
"One of the `parents' of Taiwan Farmer No. 3 had an unusually prominent seam in the skin of the fruit. However, it was not possible to pop the fruit right out," Chang said. "Deepening the seam through selective breeding until the fruit could be squeezed out of the skin was one of the goals set by the original researchers on the project."
The new variety of lychee was one of many hybrids -- including new varieties of rice, string beans and corn -- unveiled at the Taiwan Agricultural Technology Marketplace exhibition last month.
Also known more evocatively as "Rosy Red," Taiwan Farmer No. 3 was 20 years in the making. However, Chang has only been with the project for 18 years.
"It is exceptionally rare for one researcher to see a project from inception to completion," he said. "All the original researchers working on Rosy Red have long since left the Chiayi ARI."
Chang has high hopes for Rosy Red, only the second variety he has seen to completion.
"In addition to it's `popabilty,' Rosy Red is a large and extremely sweet lychee with a good flavor profile and excellent shelf-life," Chang said.
In addition, he estimates that the fruit can be kept fresh for at least a month with proper refrigeration as opposed to two weeks with other varieties such as the ubiquitous "Blackleaf" and the premium "Jade Purse."
Chang said it would be at least another two years before Rosy Red starts appearing on the market. In the meantime, he is working on a new variety of logan.
"The long process of coming up with a new variety is worth it because we are helping farmers improve their livelihoods and increasing consumers' choices," Chang said.
Despite the high price commanded by Jade Purse lychees in the marketplace, farmers' profit margins are low because the variety is difficult to care for and does not bear lots of fruit, Chang said. Rosy Red, on the other hand, is as easy to cultivate and as heavy-yielding as the cheaper Blackleaf variety.
"Rosy Red thrives in Taiwanese conditions because it is bred for Taiwanese conditions," he added. "The yield can be easily double that of Jade Purse. It is also a late variety, extending the lychee season beyond the end of July."
It's not just fruit trees like lychees that require a lengthy breeding period, said Huang Shan-ney (黃山內), director of the Tainan District Agricultural Research and Extension Station that unveiled the sweetcorn variety "Tainan No. 22" at the exhibition.
"It took us eight years of breeding before we were happy with the results," he said.
"We need local breeding facilities so that we can breed not just to local conditions, but also to local tastes," Huang said. "For instance, we do not like all of our corn to be super-sweet in this country."
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