Three herb pioneers have teamed up to develop basil varieties resistant to downy mildew, which they describe as a “critical industry problem”.
Professor of plant biology at Rutgers University in New Jersey, Jim Simon, herb industry pioneer, Charlie Coiner, and retired president of Van Drunen Farms, Ed Van Drunen, all collaborated to achieve a commercially viable cultivar to offer growers.
“Having a ‘resistant’ plant doesn’t mean you won’t ever have the disease. But in general, it will allow a plant to have a greater ability to resist the disease,” said Jim Simon.
“What we were aiming to develop is a plant that will sufficiently grow without concern about symptomology during the growing and harvest season, and as such we are talking about degrees of tolerance not only resistance.”
The colleagues have applied for a patent for the varieties and the seeds are now being sold commercially through VDF Specialty Seeds, with a participatory approach with commercial basil farmers in the U.S. and the EU being used to decide the final lines to be released.
“Compared to anything out there, it’s phenomenal. We have developed over a dozen new sweet basils with now four new sweet basils being introduced into commercial marketplace,” said Simon.
“We have a number of beautiful large sweet basil types with great aroma, high yield and so far, can be grown and harvested with no disease symptoms in comparison to other commercial lines side by side which show significant downy mildew injury. These lines are not immune – but are resistant.”
No genetic modification was used during the breeding process, he said.
According to a study conducted by Cornell University, downy mildew is a destructive disease confirmed in both field and greenhouse-grown basil crops found in many states across the U.S.
The pathogen develops on lower leaf surfaces and renders near complete crop loss for growers because the leaves are unmarketable and inedible.