Watermelon Breeder Sees Huge Opportunities

A Syngenta watermelon breeder reflects on past accomplishments and looks forward to further innovations.
Matt Kinkade, Ph.D., global seedless watermelon breeder for Syngenta, inspects watermelons grown in trials at the Naples Research Station in Florida.
Matt Kinkade, Ph.D., global seedless watermelon breeder for Syngenta, inspects watermelons grown in trials at the Naples Research Station in Florida.

Matt Kinkade, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in quantitative genetics by studying tomatoes. Today, he is the global seedless watermelon breeder for Syngenta. Why the switch?

“I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t like watermelon,” he says, laughing. “It’s a fruit that everyone loves.”

But it’s actually the scientific opportunities that drew Kinkade toward watermelons. About 95 percent of the watermelon consumed in the U.S. is of a seedless variety, he estimates. But it wasn’t until the early 1980s that seedless watermelons became commercialized, so that means there are still huge opportunities for scientific tinkering.

“Syngenta has a long history of watermelon success. But in the last 10 years or so, we’ve just exploded with new innovations.”

Matt Kinkade
Kinkade points to the Super Pollenizer™ (SP) series from Syngenta as one example of innovations that can happen in the watermelon market. Seedless watermelons need a seeded variety for pollination. Prior to the SP series’ introduction, growers had to deal with large, seeded melons growing next to their seedless market prizes. The SP varieties produce inedible, baseball-sized melons, which lessen the competition for their larger, seedless neighbors.

“No one knew it was possible, so no one knew they wanted it,” Kinkade says. The phenomenon reminds him of how attached people used to be to their portable CD players. Then the iPod came along. “Overnight, everyone started using iPods.”

Kinkade is also deservedly proud of the development of Fascination watermelon variety from Syngenta, which “has set a new standard for what seedless watermelon quality should be.”

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It’s the kind of advancement that drew him to the company almost four years ago. “Syngenta has a long history of watermelon success,” he says. “But in the last 10 years or so, we’ve just exploded with new innovations.”

Under Kinkade’s watch, expect that to continue.