Vegetable seed trials - Future promise

Despite tough growing conditions seed companies showed some promising varieties at October's Lincolnshire field trials, Gavin McEwan reports.

HM Clause reports that its larger varieties Warlock and Sorcerer pumpkins are too big to be sold in supermarkets - image: HW
HM Clause reports that its larger varieties Warlock and Sorcerer pumpkins are too big to be sold in supermarkets - image: HW
Vegetable seed companies displaying their field trial sites in Lincolnshire last month were far from immune to the tough growing conditions experienced throughout the course of the season. But the show did indeed go on, with some companies even welcoming a chance to pit their breeding against the worst of the British weather.

Nickerson Zwaan

"The cold, wet, dull weather has been a big problem for brassicas," says Nickerson Zwaan product development manager Nick Bolton. "Cauliflower has been three weeks late and cabbage is not making head weight. As a result, there will be a shortage of cabbage coming into next spring."

The recently launched large-headed white cabbage Satie "has coped with the poor conditions better than others", he says, while in cauliflower, "the Vilmorin-bred Bodilis has also performed well, with the power of its root system getting it through stressful periods — it’s been the first time it has had to withstand these conditions". He adds that the consumer preference for prepared products over whole cauliflower favours new varieties such as Seoul. "It ended up very uniform at harvesting and has a heavy curd, giving you the weight," Bolton says, while Raoul, being one week later, "gives you continuity of harvest if you plant every two weeks".

In Brussels sprouts, Niz 16-552 "showed its vigour and height, even in a difficult year", he says, adding that there is a growing trend towards selling sprouts "on the tree", analogous to selling tomatoes on the vine, "and for that you need a reasonably tall and uniform variety". Niz 16-4021, meanwhile, has a sweet taste "quite unlike your typical sprout", he says. "We will do taste tests with big growers in December."

Sister company HM Clause highlighted new genetics available through the integration of US company Harris Moran. "That now gives us pumpkins, of which Harris Moran is the leading supplier in the USA, as well as sweetcorn and courgettes," says its vegetable specialist, Jeroen Iprenburg. Pumpkins include the "edible" Spitfire and the "carving" Gomez. Even bigger varieties Warlock and Sorcerer "are too large for supermarkets", he adds. "The issue in the UK is getting them ready in terms of colour and weight by the end of October."

Similarly, on sweetcorn "we are looking at putting a programme in place for the UK in the next few years — there is still a lot to do on yield and quality", he says.

Elsoms

Parsnips are "one crop that’s thrived in the weather", says Elsoms regional vegetable specialist James Wilson — unlike its relative the carrot, which has been "shorter and later", he adds.

The Spalding company’s new Pacific "will become our standard early parsnip, along with Picador", says Wilson. Meanwhile, Panorama is a new main-crop variety that "has a good shape and will still give you the length even if you are on heavier land", he adds.

In cabbage, Kosaro has a uniform round head, strong colour and high disease resistance, while in Brussels sprouts, Divino and Neptuno offer round, even buttons up the stem, so allowing machine harvesting in the key November-December window, says Wilson, adding that disease resistance has also been improved.

Sakata

Sakata’s cauliflower breeding programme at its Sutterton site is yielding "some very promising lines", says technical manager Kate Smart. "Supermarkets want flavour and shelf life, but it also has to be easy to cut, high-yielding and disease-resistant. You might have fantastic flavour, but it still has to be viable for the grower."

Its new Karnak, aimed chiefly at the processing market, "has big, solid florets that don’t crumb, with a bigger head than you would want for a face-pack", she says.

A later variety, it takes 95-100 days to mature. It takes its place alongside Concept, the principal main-season variety for the UK market, and the slightly later Atalaya.

On broccoli, two new as yet unnamed Sakata varieties are still in their pre-commercial year. The F1 BC10543 offers a strong green colour and a convenient height for harvesting. "It’s good for a UK main crop," with a typical head weight of 400g, says Smart. BC10544, meanwhile, "has good depth of colour, is easy to de-leaf and is good for both crown and floreting".

Among the company’s Japanese breeding, the green cabbage CB10271 "is an improvement on Sennen, but not ready yet", says Smart. Meanwhile, pak choi "has become an important product for us — one for which we have the breeding and the knowledge", she adds. The category has two types. Dark-green forms with white stems, such as Sakata’s Chu Choi, "are what Asian customers think pak choi should be like, but they are harder to grow", Smart explains, whereas the Shanghai type is grown for the supermarkets. Among the latter, Sakata has three varieties: "Pak choi normally bolts in cold temperatures, but Yang Qing Choi is slow to bolt in winter, while Mei Qing Choi and the new You Qing Choi also boast club root tolerance, making them well suited to growing under glass."

Also, beetroot "has become an important crop for us", adds Smart, with a new sweet F1 Red Hawk launched and a further two varieties currently in development. "It was seen as old-fashioned but has been rejuvenated as a prepared product with health-giving properties. It has become trendy again," she says.

Takii

Takii is another Japanese breeder looking to expand the brassica category with Far Eastern variants, though in fact most of its brassica and onion breeding is carried out in the Netherlands.

Area sales manager Jelle Kleijn says of Japanese flat white cabbage: "In Japan, they want it sweet and loose inside. It’s used to wrap fish, so you don’t want it brittle. It’s not on sale in the UK yet, but those who have tried it like the taste. We hope consumers will associate the shape with the sweetness and treat it as a salad vegetable."

Takii also expects to have pointed cabbages in the UK market next year, though the variety on show still had only a number. On Chinese cabbage, meanwhile, "we aim to supply growers with a variety for each season — an early that won’t bolt, a summer form that’s heat-tolerant and an autumn variety that stores well", Kleijn explains.

On the more conventional broccoli, Confident, a variety still being trialled, is two weeks earlier than the market-leading Iron Man. "This was very difficult this year and a variety like this would give you a more balanced harvest period," says Kleijn.

Tozer Seeds

"We can experiment a bit more than the bigger companies," says Tozer product development specialist Dr Sara Jennings, explaining the Surrey company’s current focus on breeding "ornamental edible" brassica leaves.

"Kale is already a superfood in the US. It also has the advantage of colouring up more in winter. We have to talk to people about what works and are whittling it down to those that perform well, from around 200 varieties to more like 10. But if the marketing is done correctly, it should be brilliant," says Jennings.

The pre-commercial variety TZC8011 "has leaves that could be sold bagged", she says. "It cooks quickly and has a good flavour, and would look stunning on a restaurant plate." The more experimental TZB9339, on the other hand, "is like a Chinese crispy seaweed".

Of Tozer’s cavolo nero varieties, Black Magic has been bred for slowness to bolt, erect habit and winter hardiness, and is already being sold as whole leaf in some supermarkets, while "we are working on the habit and intensity of colour", Jennings explains of Red Devil.

She adds that Pentland Brig "is an old kale that has been rediscovered and is now on sale in Waitrose", while January King cabbages are "very British and the best eating of the cabbages".

On chard, meanwhile, "we are working on habit, leaf texture and uniformity, as well as getting more distinct stem colours — yellow, red, even pink", she says. "We are still a couple of years away, but the market is building for these."

Red Brussels sprouts, however, were "not looking so good" on its trial site, she admits. "We want a really red form — the interest is definitely there." Breeding also continues on its Flower Sprout range, which from next year will no longer be exclusive to Marks & Spencer.

Pumpkin and squash product specialist Charlotte Wheeler adds that breeding varieties of these that are suitable for the British climate is another priority for Tozer: "There has never been a pumpkin or a butternut squash bred for the UK. They need to get to maturity fast." This year’s season has laid bare the challenge, she adds: "Our own crops are a good third to a half smaller than usual."

Rijk Zwaan

Rijk Zwaan account manager Keith Stephen is also concerned about the effects of the weather.

"Normally you would start putting cabbages into cold storage in early October, but it will drag on this year into late November and early December, and some of the crop isn’t going to make it," he says.

"Our varieties are establishing themselves in the processing market," he adds. Its trial white cabbage 30-277 RZ, intended as a new introduction for 2014, shows good storing ability, he says, adding: "It also has a short core, which growers like." The later-maturing Mucsuma also has improved cold storage.

But Stephen points out: "The demand is down on pre-packed cabbage and there is an oversupply across Europe, with the Dutch selling cheaply into the UK market."

He describes the Romanesco-type cauliflower Punta Verde as "a great product looking for a market", while admitting: "Problems with seed production mean limited availability this year."

Conventional cauliflower, meanwhile, "is a new focus of our breeding", he says, adding that Bellamy and Kernok are two promising trial varieties with vigorous, uniform upright growth.

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