US vegetable breeders respond to market needs with new varieties

For a while now, West Coast and East Coast commercial growers having been pressing vegetable seed breeders for varieties that ease their challenges. Some need a way to ease harvest. Others want hearty, disease-resistant varieties that can remain viable in cold and damp soils. Some want both. Those two diverging narratives played out in our California and New York vegetable seed field trials coverage this summer, largely driven by the differences between growing on the two coasts.

But breeders are also innovating in other areas. One is in developing and offering more organically grown and certified seed. More and more growers want to capitalize on increased consumer demand as well as the wholesale premiums organic produce demand.

Bejo Seeds is one of several breeders that were present in New York that are innovating in this area. And the Oceano, CA-based outfit didn’t disappoint with its new Organic Oasis field plot at the research farm in Geneva, NY. It showcased the burgeoning organic side of the breeder’s vegetable business.

“Where we see our strengths currently,” Chelsea Lenczyk, a sales and product development rep for Bejo, tells me, “is we bring a wide range of varieties across a wide geography, along with high quality hybrid seed. And we’re expanding into organics heavily.”

Increasing flavor and color
Another narrative that came out of the New York trials is a focus from seed breeders on developing varieties for both increased flavor and other mostly consumer-valued traits. Good examples of those traits are diverse colors of peppers and even sweet corn, which is reportedly trending away from all white varieties to trendier white and yellow speckled ears.

“Flavor is obviously hugely dominant still,” Lenczyk adds. “And then our commercial growers are always looking for new disease-resistant varieties, and then of course top-end yield remains a huge selling point.”

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