Dutch vegetable open days

Brassicas, squashes, salads, roots and alliums were all on show as growers, advisers, agents and buyers visited the main seed breeders' sites, Gavin McEwan reports.

Dutch field vegetable open days: this year’s event hosted in the province of North Holland attracted visitors from around 50 countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe - image: HW
Dutch field vegetable open days: this year’s event hosted in the province of North Holland attracted visitors from around 50 countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe - image: HW

The Dutch field vegetable open days have some claim to be the largest gathering of vegetable growers, advisers, agents and buyers in the world. D

Dotted around locations in the province of North Holland, the main seed breeders’ sites this year drew visitors "from 50 countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe", according to Hazera, which enjoyed the fine September weather that even threw some crops further forward than exhibitors intended.

Asa-Lift: used by Syngenta to demonstrate broccoli harvesting during open days

Brassicas and squashes

Syngenta used the open days to preview its multi-floret broccoli MF049, harvesting of which was demonstrated during the open days with a bespoke Asa-Lift harvester. Already there is "quite a bit of interest" in the variety, which will be commercially available next year, says UK vegetable business manager James Gray. 

"You don’t have a yellow ‘halo’ because it’s shaded from the sun, so the quality is better for longer. It also has a hint of pea flavour." He adds of the whole-head broccoli Betsy: "We will be testing this heavily next year," while the experimental SGD93888 "is very strong against systemic downy mildew — we see that as its main selling point".

Syngenta also showed its Frivol sprouts, similar to Tozer’s highly successful Flower Sprouts and available in purple, red and green forms. "So far these are all for winter but we are looking to get some season extension on these, ideally October to March," says Gray. Meanwhile, the early-summer Savoy cabbage Preludium "has cytoplasmic male sterility leading to greater uniformity in the crop", he adds. 

Hazera’s Savoy Serpentine for summer to autumn is the result of marker-assisted breeding, range manager Nick Bolton explains. "We mark the gene that gives resistance to Xanthomonas, the bacterial disease that causes spotting."

On the Brodie Brussels sprout, he adds: "Hazera was going to drop it because it is not as high-yielding but Scottish farmers said they liked the mild pea-like, less ‘sprouty’ taste." The variety is now also available in the home-growing market through Mr Fothergill’s.

The Hazera variety 16-676 is another Christmas-ready sprout. "Light leaf spot devastated crops in Lincolnshire last season," Bolton explains. "We have been selecting in Scotland for seven or eight years for less susceptible varieties and this appears to have high resistance."

Bejo has a joint breeding programme in brassicas with Lincolnshire-based Elsoms. White cabbage Expect "is really uniform with good storage" and given the importance of the coleslaw market in the UK "is not too crinkly inside so won’t hold onto water and so curdle the mayonnaise", says Elsoms crop manager Chris Bettinson.

Meanwhile, red cabbage Kosaro "doesn’t split, stands up well and has good field holding", while the "fantastic yielding" Klimaro was the variety that last month gave Cornish amateur grower David Thomas a 23kg monster, beating the UK record for largest red cabbage that had stood since 1925.

The Bejo cauliflower Liria "has a tight, well-covered head and will hold up well in the field in summer, and is proving to be a good introduction for us", adds Bettinson. "Growers want continuity but cauliflower is one of the more difficult ones to get right," he points out, adding that the difficulty of getting year-round supply has hampered large-scale take-up of Romanesco and coloured forms.

"With broccoli, on the other hand, you can almost get by with just the one variety", and Bejo’s Covina "is dome-shaped, which helps prevent spear rot, while its vigour gives a 500g head", says Bettinson.

The early Brussels sprout Dagan "has upright leaves that fall away well", while the follow-on Marta "has nice round buttons and is easy to harvest". 

The later still Faunus "is not too tall so won’t fall over in the field". On kale, he adds: "Reflex is the biggest-selling. It’s high-yielding and can be left in the field until March or April."

Sakata’s Triton broccoli "is doing well in summer in the UK — it copes with unpredictable weather, giving good field holding and head weight", says regional product manager David Samuels. 

The Japanese-based breeder’s cauliflower CAU01693 is a short-cycle variety for spring and early summer, with a clean white covered dome "performing well in the UK in tests this year", he adds. Ornamental pumpkin SQ11133 "is out for trials this year in the UK" and "gives a good-sized uniform crop of around 23-26cm diameter that won’t scar in the ground".

Samuels: Sakata ornamental pumpkin SQ11133 is out for trials in the UK this year

Leafy salads

HM Clause UK market development manager Jeroen Iprenburg says of leafy salads: "The business is all about margins — bigger, better, more efficient crops. These give you the volume and head weight."

The Hazera-owned brand has "a revamped range of curly endive — a traditional salad bag filler", he adds. Varieties to come out well from trials in East Anglia include the mild Kassy. "Glory was the standard but this has a better phenotype and won’t run away in the field."

While a minor player in leafy salads, HM Clause is the main supplier of corn salad seed globally. "It’s new for UK growers, but Anglia Salads has taken it on in a serious way," says Iprenburg. "They can offer shorter transport distances, so better quality, than French imports. It’s high in vitamin C and in France you can buy bags of it. They grow 20,000 tonnes a year. But the industry runs on very few varieties and more are needed for good shelf life in the bag."

The Prima variety is in its first year of introduction. HM Clause product manager Richard Fournage says: "The main interest of Prima is the uniformity of its leaves, both in size and serration. It’s upright with nice colour and thickness and good shelf life, and anecdotally shows good resistance to mildew. We also have spring varieties where you have low risk of cotyledon yellowing, such as Gala and Princess."

Hazera crop market and development manager John de Soyza points out that in lettuce the open-headed Batavia-type Maradone "has the Bremia resistance the market has been crying out for, particularly against race Bl:29" and also has "strong, three-dimensional leaves that keep their shape in the bag". 

The iceberg-type Glassica "is a reliable variety, tolerant of dehydration — it will stay fresh and green — and is now establishing itself in the market", adds de Soyza. "It has good observed resistance against lettuce and cucumber mosaic viruses, which were an issue last year."

The Pursuit iceberg, meanwhile, does not suffer from premature head formation, which can limit final size. "If you plant it early it will reach a good size early in the season when you need it," he says.

Sakata’s Japanese leaf JAP01988 "is also red underneath" with a mild mustardy flavour, adding "vibrancy" to bagged salads, and with a strong colour contrast, while the Swiss chard Fire Fresh "is liked by growers and packers and is resistant to Cercospora leaf spot, a big issue for this crop, as well as downy mildew", Samuels explains.

The breeder’s Helvos spinach "is good for the main UK growing season, slow to bolt, with thick, deep-coloured leaves that can be harvested, washed and packed without damage even in summer", he adds, and is "resistant to all downy mildew races except 10".

Syngenta’s new fully resistant spinach variety El Prado for spring and autumn harvesting is now commercially available in large quantities, says crop specialist George Hallam. "It has a dark colour and slightly Savoy leaf without being too pointed." For next year it also has three semi-commercial varieties with full 1-16 Pfs resistance for growers to trial — LDSP974, LDSP975 and LDSP976. These are also shoulder types suitable for baby-leaf production.

At its Westland trial site further south, Nunhems showed the fully resistant Hydrus spinach along with its Multileaf lettuce varieties that boast full Bremia resistance, high yielding and vibrant colours. In Iceberg, Pluskin is aimed for summer but also covers late-spring/early-autumn plantings, both on sandy and heavy soils. The Romaine variety Sideral offers tip burn resistance and is suitable for twin packs, singles and processing, while Rugbee and Crispol are new mini-Romaine forms.

Roots and alliums

Hazera’s de Soyza explains that the onion Fasto offers UK growers "the holy grail" of early maturity and long-term storage potential. "Especially in the UK you can never be sure of the weather in September — will you be able to harvest early and avoid that risk period?" he explains. "We have subjected them to high temperature and light to put them under sprouting and rotting pressure and it has been exceptional, with little or no losses to either, far ahead of reference varieties."

Moving on to carrots, he says: 

"We have been working on earliness, yield and enhanced disease characteristics. It’s hard to get all those in one but we think we have in Octavo. It has been taken up in the main carrot segment. Other varieties may have higher gross yield but with more waste."

The Norfolk carrot has been bred by Bejo for increased resistance to cavity spot, "which is hard to control because the pathogen is poorly understood", says Bettinson, adding that otherwise "growers are happy" with Bejo’s market-leading Nairobi. "Both go through the packhouse well, wash up nicely and have good shelf life."

Elsoms has its own breeding work in swede and parsnip that is marketed more widely through its Dutch partner. "Parsnip consumption elsewhere in the world, such as North America, is growing each year," says Bettinson.

Onion varieties are suited to different latitudes to prevent bolting, he explains, so the long-day Rheinsberger types "can only be grown north of Paris". The recently introduced Hysky is Bejo’s only maincrop Rheinsberger, with improved resistance against Fusarium, and will be among the varieties being assessed at next month’s NIAB trials. Hybound, meanwhile, offers early maturity for harvesting in late August, "which is something growers are looking for given what the weather in September can be like".

In leeks, Rally is "looking very promising", adds Bettinson. Also an early form, "it can’t be planted out in March and won’t bolt, and gives a good yield", and is well suited to pre-packing, which now makes up most of UK sales and for which "they don’t want much green".

Sakata’s BO10284 bunching onion skins peel easily, it has downy mildew tolerance and strong shelf life, says Samuels, while its red beet Be10317 "is excellent for baby production, being uniform at an early stage, with deep colour, high sugars, a smooth skin and small tap root".

Rijl Zwaan continuing to expand its range of organic varieties

The organic market accounts for 10 per cent of Netherlands-based seed breeder Rijk Zwaan’s business worldwide, and the figure is growing.

"Organic varieties build on the success of conventional ones but may be tougher, hardier or able to put up with less nutrients," product development specialist Neil Haynes said at the Organic Open Day co-hosted by the firm and the Soil Association last month. "They are more expensive because the breeding is harder."

In salads, the easy-to-prepare Salanova lettuce has been added to Rijk Zwaan’s organic range, while the red butterhead Seurat and the newer Barlach have succeeded Klee. "We are continuously adapting to new mildew strains, hence the switch from Klee when a new race came along," says Haynes. On trials of a seed-impregnated matting at the Somerset site, he adds: "Baby leaf and corn salad have worked, spinach not so well."

Rijk Zwaan’s Fidra carrot is popular in conventional growing and was named best in show at the British Carrot Growers Association variety trials day earlier this month. "We have always made a point of sweetness in carrots, and Fidra, for bunching or bulk, is bred from Stanford, which was very sweet," Haynes explains. "Jerada is a 90-day carrot that can be grown at high density. You can tell how big it is from the foliage — 15cm above ground means 15cm below."

In beetroot, meanwhile, Zeppo "is a bunching variety that gives you yield and Brix — even when oversized they retain their taste".

Inside the trials polytunnel, the established cucumber Proloog "is fully grown in three-to-five weeks and is very high-yielding". Among tomatoes, Haynes pledges: "If you can’t grow Mecano we will give you your money back." Another truss type, Roterno, is "very vigorous — you have to be dedicated to keep up with it".

On peppers, the pointed Sweet Palermo variety, which Rijk Zwaan has been heavily promoting, is available for organic growers. "But they require a lot of attention and it has been a bit too cool for them here." The aubergine Monarca "keeps a saleable size, even if you are two weeks late picking it — other varieties just grow and grow."

He points out: "As a global company we can communicate with colleagues and even have our own social media platform, which means we can say to each other ‘this might work for you’. 

We also work with local distributors to supply small growers who may only want 100 seeds a year."

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