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Tour of Seminis’ melon field trials in California
New melon varieties with consistent quality and fewer harvest passes
Last year, Seminis launched a new cantaloupe variety called Don David. “This year was the first year of sales in the western US,” says Jeff Mills, melon breeder with Seminis. The variety is also sold in Guatemala and Honduras and exported to the US in winter. “This is the first year of sales in California and Arizona. The first growers have harvested and they are positive, so I am excited,” admitted Mills. “In the first year, growers really trial the variety; they are getting to know the variety and manage it. It’s small scale and next year, we will likely see a lot more acreage.”
Don David - long shelf-life with flavor and aroma
Don David is unique from other long shelf-life cantaloupe varieties in the sense that the netting is more closed. “For a long-shelf life cantaloupe it is typical for the netting to be a bit more open,” shared Mills. “As a result, on long shelf-life melons you tend to see more skin.” Don David is ropier and more closed, but still has a long shelf-life. “Long shelf-life melons also are notorious for having less aroma and being a little too firm,” said Mills. “Don David however is a really nice eating quality melon with more flavor and aroma. The brix comes on earlier, so more of the fruit is premium eating quality. This variety is a sweet spot: it is a two-harvest pass melon for the grower with long shelf-life advantages as well as flavor and aroma.”
Jeff Mills shows the Don David variety
Flavor Journey – consistent quality, fewer harvest passes
Another new variety is Flavor Journey; a high-quality honeydew melon. It will go commercial this fall. “I am pretty proud of it as it doesn’t soften as readily,” mentioned Mills. It holds very well in the field and allows the grower to leave it on the plant longer. This will result in a more concentrated harvest and fewer harvest passes through the filed. It will help save the grower on labor costs. Another benefit of leaving the fruit longer on the plant is that sugar levels are much higher and more consistent. “It is tough to pick honeydews; a lot of sub-quality fruit makes it into the pick, resulting in an inconsistent experience for the consumer,” according to Mills. Flavor Journey stays firm on the plant and the grower can wait harvesting until a larger percentage of the fruit is ready. Commercial sales of Flavor Journey will start this fall and the seeds will be planted in spring, predominantly in California and Arizona. By the end of August 2018, it will be available in stores.
New Flavor Journey variety
From commodity market to branding?
Melons are very much a commodity market and it is not common for a consumer to know what variety he/she is buying. “There are only a few examples of branded melons in the market, but I see a lot of opportunities,” Mills said. “There is value for melons that are legitimately better tasting, but growers are not getting paid for the additional quality. I would love for growers to have the opportunity to differentiate and see the industry move into the value-added direction,” he added. “Branding is done occasionally. An example is a group of US growers that are doing a really nice job with a golden honeydew melon, but this is not necessarily typical.” They have branded it as Golden Dewlicious and looks a little different. It has a green flesh like a honeydew, but with a very bright yellow skin.
Balance between shipping ability, flesh texture and harvest passes
As a melon breeder, Mills looks at several quality requirements in the process of developing a new variety. Brix levels are key, but flesh texture is also a huge part of quality. Aroma is a big component and so is year-round availability as well as the ability to ship over a long distance. Another important factor that comes into play is the amount of harvest passes. “One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in the industry in the past 5-10 years is growers trying to cope with labor costs.” They try to manage their business, but labor costs have gone up pretty substantially, especially in California. The price the grower receives per box is not necessarily going up and therefore, I am looking for innovative varieties. Since all melons are hand-harvested I try to develop varieties that do not sacrifice quality, but make fewer harvest passes. There is a balance between the distance you can ship, the flesh texture and the number of passes you have to make in the field.”
On average, it takes about eight years to bring a new variety to market. Line development is about two to three years. “I make hybrids and trial them for four years. If we are running really fast, it probably takes seven years from me making a developmental cross to selling the seeds. That would be quick. Normally, it is about eight years.”
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