A major wholesale vegetable seed supplier says it is excited by the results of field trials of new baby spinach and broccoli varieties, which will hopefully be made available for Australian and New Zealand growers.
Fairbank's Selected Seed Co. is the exclusive distributor in the two countries for the Leafy and Brassica range of varieties from Syngenta. National Sales Manager, George Jelbart says the ongoing trials at Fairbanks are all about determining exactly the right timeslot for commercial production of each variety.
"Ultimately, we are aiming to have a range of 5-6 varieties that growers can select from to achieve excellent results in all seasons," Mr Jelbart said. "The new generation of baby leaf spinach varieties being bred by Syngenta is truly exciting. There has been a real focus on colour and leaf aesthetics but more importantly a strong focus on reducing leaf spot (defects) and improving the durability of the washing process. While aesthetics like dark colour and lightly savoyed leaves help drive sales, it’s minimising crop losses that really drives profit for farmers. Like many spinach breeders, Syngenta is constantly working to stay ahead of the ever-increasing strains of downy mildew, but uniquely at Syngenta, they are also focussing on resistance to Stemphylium. This devastating fungal disease hits during damp warm weather and once infected, it immediately renders the leaf unfit for sale. Resistance is the best form of prevention and most of the new Syngenta varieties now have high levels of resistance to Stemphylium."
Photo: El Furio F1 on the right side, and new mid-green baby leaf spinach El Olah F1 (previously known as El Halo F1) on the left.
Mr Jelbart says the most successful spinach variety so far has been El Furio, due to its thick dark green leaf and slower-growing habit set it apart from all other varieties in the summer season harvest.
"The combination of these traits with its V-like three-dimensional shape delivers a very durable product with a flexible harvest window," he said. "It stands up to the rigours of processing and fills salad boxes and bags with exceptional volume. El Furio also has a reliable mildew package and high resistance to Stemphylium, helping to minimise any losses in the field."
Photo: Fairbank's El Furio F1 baby spinach variety.
There have also been some very promising early trial results in New Zealand of El Olah and El Madison, according to Mr Jelbart. These varieties follow the success of El Furio with similar traits but have a little more vigour to extend the harvest window into the Spring and Autumn. El Ganto is a high vigour variety that has delivered strong results in the cool weather.
"The continued growth of baby leaf spinach as a category is incredible, but with that growth has come increased quality expectations," he said. "Consumers expect a minimum of 7-10 days shelf life when they purchase baby spinach. This is a lot to expect from a little leaf that has to be harvested, transported, washed, packed and transported again before that 7-10 days even begins. By choosing durable varieties like El Furio, growers and processors alike can meet and exceed consumer demands. This is a driving factor behind our research activities and new variety selections."
Photo: The new McLaren F1 broccoli variety.
There have also been some promising results for Fairbanks in terms of broccoli trials, and Mr Jelbart says there has been a real breakthrough for broccoli growers, with the introduction of a new ‘TopRes’ broccoli variety with Clubroot resistance.
"Clubroot has plagued many broccoli growers for years, reducing productivity and occasionally destroying entire crops," he explained. "The new McLaren F1 broccoli variety is the first commercially available broccoli with resistance to most strains of clubroot (Pb races 0,1 & 3), it is also an exceptionally versatile variety in its own right with a very wide harvest season. Since its first trial results in April 2021, McLaren has shown adaptability to most seasons but is getting better now as the weather warms up. With strong commercial demand in New Zealand already, McLaren will be welcomed into many broccoli grower’s programs in the near future."
Another promising variety is the Balard F1 broccoli, which Mr Jelbart says is a versatile new variety introduced in Australia this year for a cool and mild season harvest.
"It is one of the most flexible varieties we have come across, consistently delivering high-quality heavy broccoli heads throughout winter and early spring in South East Queensland, and from late winter right through to early summer in the southern states," he said. "This harvest window is notoriously difficult to find a variety that works in the varying weather conditions but Balard F1 has proven itself after more than 250 individual trial results over the last few years."
Photo (and close-up above): The Balard F1 broccoli variety.
In the last 18 months, Fairbanks Seeds has opened online stores for both Australia and New Zealand, after recognising that there are many professional vegetable growers that need professional-quality seeds but do not have the scale to afford wholesale pack sizes.
"At the same time, we understand that many growers also appreciate the convenience of ordering online," Mr Jelbart said. "Now with an online store, Fairbanks conveniently offers our professional quality seeds in smaller pack sizes with free shipping to help level the playing field for all growers."
Fairbank's Selected Seed Co. Pty. Ltd.
Ph: + 61 3 8401 3346