Genetic resistances are critical in organic vegetables

With an annual growth rate of 7%, the organic market is very important in the USA. Vegetable breeding company Rijk Zwaan is investing in resistance breeding for this market. Rick […]
Tue 18/12/2018

With an annual growth rate of 7%, the organic market is very important in the USA. Vegetable breeding company Rijk Zwaan is investing in resistance breeding for this market. Rick Falconer, Managing Director of Rijk Zwaan USA, explains why this is so crucial for organic growers: “Downy mildew can ruin a field of spinach within 24 hours.”

“The organic market in the USA is growing rapidly because of the rising demand for healthy products and an increase in environmental awareness among consumers. It’s very interesting to see this growth, particularly in the so-called ‘superfood’ vegetables such as spinach, carrots and brassica crops. Consumers expect fresh-produce perfection. They want a healthy product, grown without synthetic chemicals. They often don’t realise that many years of research and development have gone into developing the varieties they buy and eat.”

Wheelhouse

“Rijk Zwaan invests heavily in breeding for the organic market. Our R&D specialty, or ‘wheelhouse’, is resistance breeding, which is often focused on a plant pathogen or insect. Resistance is one of the most important traits for organic growers because they have limited ways to control such pests. For them, genetic resistance is critical. For example, downy mildew (Peronospora) is the most important disease in spinach; it can infect and ruin a field of spinach within 24 hours, and millions of dollars are lost to this disease every year. Organic growers face huge challenges. It is extremely difficult to produce certified organic produce.” 

Impressive

“We have some great examples of resistances in the various crops, such as resistance to mildew and aphids in lettuce, mosaic virus in cucumber, fusarium in cabbage and nematodes in tomatoes, to name but a few. I suspect that our industry saves growers an impressive amount of money in terms of pesticide costs by offering varieties with resistances – not to mention the huge environmental benefits.”

Differences of opinion

“We expect the organic industry to continue to grow and evolve. There is much debate about the definition of ‘organic’, with valid arguments from all perspectives. For example, should hydroponics be considered organic? This production method is classed as ‘organic’ in the USA , but it isn’t in other regions of the world. There will always be differences of opinion on the topic of organic. At Rijk Zwaan, we monitor the market developments closely and will continue to focus on developing varieties that benefit organic growers in different markets. We want to give them solutions to their most challenging problems.”