Dutch vegetable breeder Rijk Zwaan is releasing a number of new varieties that offer greater reliability – the single-most-important requirement for fresh produce growers today.
The new varieties of endive, iceberg lettuce, celery and Crunchy cos present much promise, especially for European growers, and were recently showcased during the company’s demo days held in Fijnaart, the Netherlands, on June 16 to July 4.
In addition, an assortment of other new varieties are also coming soon from the Dutch company, including cabbage and almost all types of lettuce.
“Growers need very reliable crops because they cannot afford to encounter problems with their production,” Rijk Zwaan demo field manager Arno van Oers tells www.freshfruitportal.com.
“They need good yields, uniform sizes, easy harvesting and a strong resistance against disease, among other factors.
“That’s why at Rijk Zwaan we test a lot before we sell the seeds. We make sure we have all the right information to pass onto growers to enable them to make decisions.”
Rijk Zwaan hosts demo days all over the world including the Netherlands, Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S.
According to Van Oers, the practice is vital in order for Rijk Zwaan to inform growers about the varieties they are working on, as well as for the producers to explain their specific needs and challenges.
“It’s very important to communicate and ensure that we’re moving in the right direction with our breeding programs,” he points out.
“We need to know which varieties the growers prefer the most.”
Rijk Zwaan trials around 500 varieties of vegetables and leafy salads across open fields in Fijnaart.
During the recent demo day the firm’s new endive variety was a particular highlight among the growers, nursery owners, processors and other business partners who visited from across the world.
The variety, 11-602, is due to become commercially available next year provided the results from testing prove successful.
“11-602 has been developed for both the fresh and processed endive market in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K,” van Oers reveals.
“It’s very green which the northern European markets prefer since it looks healthy and has a very good shelf-life.
“The plant is very upright and therefore easy to harvest which is appreciated by the growers because it also means there are fewer problems with bottom rot. It shares the same characteristics as its predecessors but it can also be grown in the summer.”
Trials with 11-602 started at the beginning of May and although the full results will not be available until the season ends in late October, there has already been good feedback from growers.
“The growers like it and are asking for more seeds which is a good sign,” van Oers notes.
“We’d also like to trial 11-602 in Asia and South America, although the market for endive is more European.”
As for the name, Van Oers says there have been some proposals already but first it must be approved throughout Rijk Zwaan’s global operations.
“It’s very important to get the name right in case it doesn’t translate well in a local language, so it can take a long time,” he notes.
“Sometimes we have to just start selling the seeds with their number.”
Rijk Zwaan has also developed two new varieties of iceberg lettuce, 45-153 RZ and 45-193 RZ, which are set to become available next year for mainly north-west European growers.
“Last year we did screening trials with growers whereby we screened 10-12 new iceberg varieties from which to choose a couple to test in bigger volume, which is where we are at now,” van Oers reveals.
“Thanks to better genes these two varieties have improved resistance to mildew which can grow very fast in lettuce. 45-193 RZ is also bigger in size.”
Following a decade in development the company has also successfully bred a flavorsome iceberg and romaine lettuce cross called Crunchy cos.
“We started developing it 12-13 years ago on the demo fields when processors told us they felt the iceberg was too light and too yellow – instead they wanted a greener variety,” van Oers states.
“It needs light and good temperatures but it has a strong resistance against tip burn (when the leaves turn brown due to a lack of calcium) which can be tricky with romaine and also iceberg.”
Crunchy cos is already available at some retailers via a small-scale trial with a few growers, but van Oers points out that higher sales will need to be registered before the firm can call it a success.
“Iceberg is such a popular lettuce so it’s not easy to change consumer preference,” he explains.
For the celery sector, Rijk Zwaan has already launched two new varieties for production in north-west Europe which offer healthy and high-yielding plants with longer, greener stalks.
Kelvin is for the early season in March or even earlier, while Stetham grows during the main celery season from April until November, depending on the growing latitude.
“It’s taken 10-12 years to develop these varieties,” informs van Oers. “Celery is a biennial crop so it takes two years to multiply the seeds and create a uniform line.”
Visitors traveled from as far as Mexico, New Zealand and South Africa to attend the demo day to see the two new varieties.
Depending on the crop, van Oers claims it can take from six months to two years to bring commercial seeds of a new variety to the market.
Photo: Rijk Zwaan