Powering Innovation in Vegetable Seeds
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Industry veteran Gene McAvoy from LaBelle, Florida, notes that genetics and advanced breeding capabilities play an increasing role in meeting diverse needs — from vigor and yield potential, which growers demand, to uniformity, appearance, texture and taste, which are key consumer preferences.
“Growers are constantly looking for the next hot crop that appeals to consumers,” says McAvoy, associate director of stakeholder relations at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and president of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents. “As a result, the vegetable industry is moving a lot faster. It used to be one variety would be dominant for 10 to 15 years. But now we’re knocking out older varieties and bringing in newer ones on a yearly basis.”
Growers are constantly looking for the next hot crop that appeals to consumers. As a result, the vegetable industry is moving a lot faster. It used to be one variety would be dominant for 10 to 15 years. But now we’re knocking out older varieties and bringing in newer ones on a yearly basis.
Through advanced breeding and new native traits, Syngenta stays ahead of the curve with these fast-changing market demands by continuously delivering new, sustainable benefits across the value chain. To date, the company has more than 2,500 varieties in 30 vegetable crop species. Here’s a snapshot of some of the most exciting developments:
Squashing Disease Resistance
One key area of innovation is breeding varieties with enhanced disease tolerance, and the patented papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) resistance technology in Syngenta squash varieties is a major development.
PRSV threatens papaya and cucurbit crops in all regions of the world with the same devastating effect — stunted plant growth resulting in limited yields and deformed fruit. To defend against the virus, Syngenta breeds its squash varieties — including Grandprize, Everglade, Spineless Supreme, San Martin, Ebano and Payload — with this groundbreaking resistance technology.
“Our PRSV-resistant commercial squash varieties have the highest resistance package in the market,” says Juan Sabater-Fortea, Syngenta regional portfolio lead for cucurbit vegetable seeds. “Our goal is to give growers greater confidence and success in doing what they do best — supplying the world with better quality food.”
Make Room for YOOM
YOOM® tomatoes, which will soon launch in the U.S. market, have become a sensation in other regions of the world due to their unique appearance and flavor. They also provide essential minerals and vitamins, including vitamin C, potassium and selenium. Earlier this year, YOOM won the Fruit Logistica Innovation Award in Berlin, an annual competition that recognizes innovation in the international fruit and vegetable industry.
“The dark skin color of YOOM attracts attention. What’s even more surprising is its savory, umami flavor,” says Jeroen Iprenburg, Syngenta technical sales representative. “YOOM is packed with nutrients favorable to a healthy diet and offers a high level of anthocyanins linked to its dark purple skin color.” Also found in blueberries, eggplants, cranberries and blackberries, anthocyanins come from a class of compounds believed to have antioxidant effects.
Syngenta breeds YOOM tomatoes with value-added traits that naturally occur in tomatoes, and growers can produce them in local greenhouse environments — year-round or seasonally. Pilot productions to evaluate the release of YOOM for North American growers are underway. YOOM tomatoes are currently grown in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece and Spain.
Strong Demand for Melons
Another focus for Syngenta is the melon market, where grower- and consumer-friendly qualities are top priorities. According to Sabater-Fortea, new melon varieties in the pipeline will meet grower, retail and consumer demands — featuring strong plant vigor, comprehensive disease and insect resistance, excellent flavor, uniform fruit shape and size for enhanced carton and bin packing, as well as extended shelf life.
To address consumer preferences, Syngenta also continues to be a leader in the seedless watermelon and snacking segments. Most recently, the company has introduced the personal-sized seedless watermelon, Sirius, which is recognized for its uniform fruit size and earlier maturity.
Syngenta produces innovations in vegetables more quickly and frequently due to its continued investment in research and development (R&D). A case in point is the Yield Accelerator, a state-of-the-art yield, recovery and sample processing facility that integrates automation, weighing, husking, cutting and canning/freezing technologies in Stanton, Minnesota. Glenn McKay, regional portfolio manager for large-seeded vegetables at Syngenta, describes this facility as a “game-changing R&D investment” because it benefits the sweet corn grower and processor by maximizing genetic yield and recovery across a wide set of growing conditions.
“The Yield Accelerator allows us to identify key traits for the processing sweet corn industry at a very early stage in the variety development process,” McKay says. “We can incorporate these traits into our genetics quickly, which reduces the time it takes to bring industry-changing genetics to market.”
Other U.S. sites where Syngenta conducts vegetable seeds research and production are Woodland and Gilroy, California; Othello and Pasco, Washington; Nampa, Idaho; Plainfield, Wisconsin; and Naples, Florida.
To strengthen its genetic portfolio in vegetable seeds, Syngenta complements its consistent investment in R&D with strategic acquisitions. Most recently, Syngenta acquired Abbott & Cobb (A&C), a move that provided breeders with the ability to further diversify Syngenta germplasm for new and improved varieties.
McKay pinpoints the improvement of seed quality, shelf life, yield potential, eating quality, kernel color and disease resistance as the overarching goals for developing new hybrids for multiple worldwide markets.
“Syngenta has a global leading position in sweet corn genetics,” he says. “The new varieties we’re developing and bringing to market incorporate the best in both grower and consumer traits for the fresh and processing sweet corn industries. For one market segment, we’re incorporating Attribute® II trait stacks into high eating quality corn varieties for strong above-ground lepidopteran control and broad-spectrum herbicide tolerance. This latest breakthrough maximizes yield potential, quality and productivity while lowering overall production costs for growers.”
Across a wide variety of crops, the Syngenta vegetable seeds team is committed to propelling growers — and their industry — forward. “We’re focused on bringing innovation to our customers and to the entire value chain,” says Teresa Mitzel, head of vegetables biological operations at Syngenta in the Americas. “Our goal is to continue introducing vegetable seed offerings that address production challenges while setting a new standard for consumer appeal.”