“There is room for improvement when it comes to yield in Ontario greenhouse tomato production. A lot has been done on the technical side, but on the genetic side Vineland Research and Innovation Centre (Vineland) is proving that the region can also benefit from new varieties," according to Peter van Duin with Eminent Seeds.
Just recently the company announced a collaboration with Vineland, to unitedly market varieties bred specifically for the Ontario region. “Tomatoes grown in Ontario are often varieties selected for the Dutch climate, which is very different from the Ontario climate”, Amanda Moen from Vineland explains.
Vineland started their breeding adventure several years ago, with an impetus from the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG). “We wanted to work on breeding new tomato-on-the-vine (TOV) varieties, that would perform well for the OGVG membership – the Ontario greenhouse growers,” says Amanda.
Most tomato varieties grown in Ontario are varieties that come from the Netherlands. “The climate might seem similar, but it’s actually very different,” says Amanda. “Here in Ontario, we have more sunshine and higher average temperatures during the summer. Overall the climate profile of Leamington, where the majority of Ontario greenhouse production takes place, is much closer to Milan. Our varieties, specially bred for this region, will provide growers with boosted yield and also improved flavour which consumers will enjoy.”
70% of Canadian production
According to Amanda, Vineland took up this challenge because the larger breeding companies are not likely to invest in a variety specifically intended for the Ontario market. “Greenhouse vegetable production is a large industry, especially in Ontario which accounts for about 70% of all Canadian production,” she says, “and it’s growing fast.” OGVG predicts around 6% growth year after year – basically as fast as the infrastructure can keep up with it. But when you look at the global market, we make up about 0.2% of greenhouse tomato production. It is a large industry, and it is an important part of our economy, but when other companies are strategically picking their target markets our 0.2% isn’t a big priority for them.”
Vineland believes they can use the theory of adaptive breeding to improve on the offerings for Ontario growers. The project started with a germplasm collection and the creation of inbred parental lines followed by hybrid crossing. “We’ve been testing hybrid varieties for three years now both at our site in Vineland Station and with growers in Leamington, and we’re starting to see some promising results,” says Amanda. “Our approach is to create varieties that will meet all the essential specifications such as average fruit weight and cluster type that marketers are looking for, and also exceed expectations for productivity and flavour.”
The target was to improve yield by 5%. “We were told when we first started breeding TOVs that if we could achieve a 5% yield boost over varieties already being grown, then the new variety would interest growers,” says Amanda. “Not only do we think this number is achievable, but we think we can exceed it. We are very happy with the yield results that we’re seeing, and the flavour of all three of our top hybrids meets or exceeds the varieties being grown in Ontario today.”
With these results, Vineland needed to bring in someone who specializes in seed production and seed marketing. Someone who knows the industry well and also has the ability – if the opportunity presents itself – to take these varieties further than Vineland is able to. “And for this, we arrived at Eminent Seeds.”
TOV is not usually the market Eminent operates in. Eminent Seeds is a company with a focus on specialty varieties in tomatoes and sweet and hot peppers. “When working in specialty products you have to have close relations with your customer, you have to be able to build projects with added value in the supply chain and then you have to find models to share that,” says Peter van Duin with Eminent. “Having those close contacts with growers also made us feel like breeding by design would be a good option for Eminent.”
Eminent added “special niches” as a new target within their specialty approach, a perfect fit for Vineland’s project. “We met the Vineland team and they had the same vision,” says Peter. “They wanted to make tailor-made solutions for the Ontario conditions and, like us, fully believed in the local for local approach.”
There may also be opportunities for Canadian-bred tomatoes in other countries and regions. Peter gives Poland as an example. “Our plan is to make Poland a strategic market to prepare the road for the Vineland varieties, because the south of Poland has a lot in common with the Ontario region,” says Peter. This is exactly the type of broader scope that Vineland was looking for. “For the sake of the sustainability of the program, and to be able to continue doing work for the Ontario market, we need to be able to expand this to whatever extent the opportunity exists globally,” says Amanda.
Peter van Duin, Eminent, with Ian Potter, Vineland’s President and CEO
GSPP seed production is underway. The new tomato varieties will be sold under the Eminent brand and are expected to be available for trialing immediately. “We will only deliver seeds under GSPP certification as seed quality and seed health is of high importance for both Vineland and Eminent.”