Earlier this month, international vegetable seed breeders once again showed off the state of the art in the Lincolnshire Fens, whose alkaline, moisture-retentive soils put it at the heart of the UK brassica industry.
At its trial site near its Spalding headquarters, Elsoms showed its new Covina variety of broccoli, which brassica crop manager David Clay says "has done well in this summer’s dry conditions". He adds: "It has good shape and weight, which helps maintain quality better."
At its nearby Sutterton vegetable breeding station, Sakata has increased its staff this year, says technical manager Kate Smart. The fine-beaded summer/autumn broccoli variety Triton, launched last year, "has performed well, with good heat-tolerance," she explains. "It suits a lot of markets."
Seminis’ 7709BL, awaiting official approval under the name Titanium, features a dense, smooth, compact head and "is suitable for cooler climates such as Scotland’s where it takes longer to mature", says regional sales representative Jeremy Booth. "It has similar timing to Ironman but more uniform growth, so is easier to harvest."
The company’s SV1002BL has a higher-domed head and is suitable for anywhere in the UK. It is intended to fit the production gap between the standard Ironman and Steel varieties.
Seminis also used the trials to investigate optimal planting densities of broccoli and cabbage.
"The main message is you can keep changing your densities through the season to maximise yield."
Away from the calabrese types, Hazera market development manager Nick Bolton says sprouting broccoli "is harvested by pulling off the side shoots, which is expensive". But the stems on the Japanese-bred BGS0201 emerge in part to form a single flat head and "are a nice dark green", he adds. "We are testing this out with local packers this year." It could also provide retailers with 5cm "broccoli tips" in the manner of fresh asparagus tips. "Most tenderstem is imported from Kenya with the cost and carbon footprint that entails," he says, adding that he hopes for a UK launch "in the next year or two".
Elsoms’ summer/early autumn cauliflower Liria "has given us a real back end to the market," says David Clay. "It’s very uniform and has been looking spectacular."
Two new Sakata cauliflowers "have performed well and are now selling, with several more in the pipeline", Kate Smart explains. Merton (formerly CF11076), suitable for most soil types, and the slightly later Jericho (CF10827) "are versatile additions to the range with improved club root resistance", she adds: "We get asked more on flavour, even in cauliflower. The aim is to get it sweeter."
Hazera’s summer/autumn variety Boris "has performed well due to its combination of vigour and drought tolerance", says Nick Bolton, while a potential successor, coded AH 2105, "is also performing really well, with strong drought resistance and deep, dense white curds through summer".
Launched last year, Seminis cauliflower SV5818AC is an 80- to 85-day variety for summer and autumn production with "good frame, a good wrap and a solid curd", says Jeremy Booth. Sitting between the firm’s Fortaleza and Giewont: "It has worked well with both conventional and organic growing."
On variety naming, he adds, code names are likely to be carried over more into the marketplace. "Names are getting hard to register, especially on crops like spinach that progress so quickly."
Rijk Zwaan showed two new white cauliflowers. Dogmatis "has been in trials for a couple of years", says crop adviser Keith Stephen. A 100-day autumn variety, its very dark leaf colour "makes it attractive in the tray, while the leaf wrap keeps the curd pale".
The Aquilon variety "is upright, so easy to work around in the field, and very vigorous — you need strong growth so it keeps going in winter", says fellow crop specialist John Buijsman. Despite being already named, it is not yet planned for commercial release.
Seed sales of the currently high-profile "superfood" kale "have been astronomical the past couple of years, so it’s hard to keep up with demand", according to Elsoms regional vegetable specialist Alan Edmond. David Clay adds: "Our breeding partner Bejo is strong in kale. We are pushing our Reflex as it has more curl and less rib, and it lets you go through from late June to the end of March with just one variety."
Hazera’s Nick Bolton adds:"There is huge interest in kale. We have our cavolo nero, which is essentially a black kale with a deeply blistered leaf. We like the uniformity and compact growth, which mean you can sell packs of the individual leaves." Currently labelled BCN 1301, it will be named and launched commercially later this year.
Bolton says the recently launched mild-flavoured Brodie "has proved very popular for the Christmas market, when around a third of all Brussels sprouts are sold". Having been sold in farm shops and farmers’ markets as "trees", it offers well-rounded, evenly spaced buttons and mild flavour that has put it top of recent taste panels, he adds.
Also for the December peak, Elsoms’ Neptuno offers "good vigour and yield for all conditions and soil types", says David Clay. It also boasts strong resistance to white blister.
Clay says of the red cabbage Klimaro: "We are trialling at 800g-1kg sizes for the retailers. It has good colour and its keeping qualities are fantastic — we have had it from October through to early August."
Hazera’s Summer Jewel spring greens variety was launched last year as a seasonal complement to its Winter Jewel, Nick Bolton explains. "Most varieties produce too much heart too quickly, but this hearts up more slowly. For stir-fries you want darker outer leaves, but there is less of that with something like a savoy."
Meanwhile, its sweet-tasting white cabbage Cabbice "is already extremely popular in the US, shredded and used raw in salads, because it is so mild," he adds. "It will also be marketed here as an ingredient in salad packs."
The autumn-maturing UZU-E is Hazera’s first attempt in the Romanesco category. "They’re not stocked much in supermarkets as it’s so easy to damage the points. But this has upright leaves that form a protective cage around the curd." Seed will be available from next year.
Rijk Zwaan’s Romanesco Puntoverde overcomes the problem with more rounded florets, Keith Stephen explains. "That way they don’t tend to break in transit." It is available as a sealed twin pack of two baby heads in Sainsbury’s.
A new Rijk Zwaan savoy cabbage coded 29428 is a blue/green, frost-tolerant variety with maturity period of 150 days for post-Christmas harvesting due to be introduced this winter. The white cabbage , likely to be commercially available form next season, "performs best at high density" for the pre-pack market as a successor to Kalorama.
The Chinese cabbage Natsuki, with its smooth glossy leaves, is well suited to stir-fries and the sandwich market, says Sakata’s Kate Smart. "It doesn’t ‘melt’ in mayonnaise like regular lettuce. We are working with a few partners on this and we think it has quite a lot of potential."
The company’s Sweetbell turnips "have been very successful" and are now sold in Marks & Spencer as a twin pack, she adds. "We are now looking at a white version [coded TP10269] with a similar flavour, but with improved club root resistance."
Keeping up with the latest trends in the salad market
"The salad market is moving more towards packed products — how many people still buy a whole head of lettuce? — and our baby leaves fit that," says Sakata’s Kate Smart.
Launched in limited volumes this year, hybrid Swiss chard Seren has strongly contrasting bright-green leaves and red stems, and "will have better volumes next year", she says.
In spinach, downy mildew (Peronospora farinosa f. sp. spinaciae) resistance remains key. For new varieties Helios, Sputnik and Soyuz "that is their most important trait", says Smart, adding that trials this year "have been very well picked up on".
Elsoms now has "a full parsnip programme from early to late season for pre-pack and processing", according to regional vegetable specialist Sam Tyrell. "Varieties like our main-season Panorama are wider and less tapered down the root — more carrot-shaped."
He adds that lettuce (pictured) "is a new and exciting programme for us" following Dutch partner Bejo’s takeover of specialist breeder Agrisemen in June. "We have been trialling these varieties for the first time in the UK this season. We don’t yet know ourselves what’s good for the UK market."