Whether it's a large commercial grower producing multiple vegetable crops on thousands of acres or a back-porch gardener tending tomatoes out of a container, the feeling of pride that results from a bountiful season is the same.
"Home gardeners want to bring the farmer's market to their backyards," says Jeannine Bogard, business lead for home garden vegetables at Syngenta. "And we want to help make that possible."
At the same time, commercial growers want to deliver something unique and appealing that consumers will demand at their local grocery stores. "We understand this goal," says Scott Langkamp, Syngenta head of vegetables. "Our breeders continuously seek new ways to help growers deliver innovative varieties that directly address supply chain needs and consumer preferences."
Understanding the Market
Through deep-rooted experience, both the Syngenta commercial and home garden vegetable teams glean valuable insight into the needs of the grower, the home gardener and the consumer.
"One of the biggest drivers in home gardening is innovation," says Bogard. "‘New and different,' and ‘better and improved' are phrases that grab the market's attention."
Not surprisingly, the biggest drivers for commercial growers are the same. Like home gardeners, growers are seeking high yields, easy-to-grow plants and a robust disease-resistance package to be successful. Syngenta understands that consumers have a large influence on which traits are developed and introduced for commercially grown vegetables; however, the needs of growers play an equally important role.
"There's always a balance between the grower and the consumer," says Motti Schramm, pepper and tomato portfolio manager for Syngenta. "And, in fact, the breeder needs to address both."
"Syngenta is the culmination of numerous mergers and acquisitions over the years. It's one of the reasons why we are able to provide best-in-class genetics to every vegetable line in our portfolio."
While consumers are demanding important traits, such as flavor, color and shape, commercial growers are also focused on other traits, including improved disease resistance, yield, vine holding and shelf life. It's these traits that address their needs as well as the needs of each link in the supply chain, from the packager and shipper to the consumer. For example, Syngenta currently has plans to bring a pepper with highly desirable disease resistance to tomato spotted wilt virus to the western U.S. market.
"Our breeders are aiming for a variety that will be more adaptable, better yielding and have better fruit quality than anything else on the market," says Schramm.
It's All About the Genetics
Both teams can trace each market success to the same winning formula: hiring the best breeders, adopting the most innovative techniques and developing some of the most advanced gene pools in the world.
"Syngenta is the culmination of numerous mergers and acquisitions over the years," says John Davis, active greenhouse portfolio manager at Syngenta. "It's one of the reasons why we are able to provide best-in-class genetics to every vegetable line in our portfolio."
On the commercial side, that commitment was recently illustrated by the acquisition of lettuce germplasm from Eagle Research & Development Inc. "Our intent with this acquisition was to bolster our iceberg germplasm, broadening the possibilities for desirable crosses," says Rick Mitchell, vegetables business manager for Syngenta.
Dave Williams, former owner of Eagle Research & Development, spent nearly 40 years breeding lettuce for the California and Arizona markets, making significant contributions along the way. For instance, he helped enhance tipburn resistance in lettuce, a trait that provides strong market appeal. "His breadth of experience, knowledge and insight into the market is extremely helpful to us," adds Mitchell.
Syngenta commercial breeders are also making progress in how they address consumer preferences through the introduction of varieties focused on convenience. For example, the company plans to introduce the Angello™ snacking pepper, already popular in Europe, to the U.S. in the near future.
"Angello is a global example of how Syngenta is innovating," says Davis. "People want healthier food alternatives, but they don't have a lot of time anymore. If you go to the grocery store and see a nice package of produce that's ready to eat, whether small grape tomatoes or maybe snacking peppers, that's so much more convenient than taking home a full-sized bell pepper and preparing it."
"Our breeders continuously seek new ways to help growers deliver innovative varieties that directly address supply chain needs and consumer preferences."
Seizing Seedless Opportunities
Similarly, Syngenta is pushing the envelope when it comes to breeding seedless watermelons. Dean Liere, watermelon portfolio manager at Syngenta, recalls how they were originally introduced. "Our breeders saw something unique with consumer benefits, quality and disease resistance that they could use to differentiate our line in the marketplace," he says. "Today, the demand for seedless varieties has skyrocketed, and Syngenta continues to lead the way in introducing advanced, innovative offerings to commercial growers."
A case in point is Fascination, a Syngenta seedless watermelon variety, first introduced in 2010. Liere reports that 2013 sales exceeded all expectations, and Fascination is now the No. 1 seedless variety in the U.S. "With Fascination, we've used our background, our science and our technology to create something that the market demanded."
Whether introducing varieties for the commercial or home garden grower, Syngenta vegetable experts deliver market breakthroughs that are helping to feed the world, one harvest at a time. "There's a reason we have become market leaders in vegetable innovations," Liere says. "It's not because our varieties look so different. It's because they are so different, very uniquely different."