AS growers are looking for more ways to be sustainable and efficient, vegetable breeder Rijk Zwaan is responding with varieties that are more resistant to pests and diseases, higher yielding, answer consumer demand and stay fresher for longer.
The company's newest and top performing varieties were on display in the trial fields of Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, last month.
Over four days, growers from across Australia and New Zealand were invited to walk the fields among Rijk Zwaan's full commercial portfolio for lettuce, spinach and brassica.
Technical sales representative, Rob Philip, said the trials were a mutually beneficial way to work with partners to discuss challenges and explore opportunities.
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"Having the trials spread out over a few days meant we could take growers through the fields one-on-one, discuss concepts and strategies, and think outside of the box to come up with ideas and flesh out concepts that growers can take to market," he said.
The conversations with growers also centred around sustainability.
"Sustainability is definitely important to their business as there aren't the margins in horticulture that there used to be and growers are always looking for efficiency gains, so if we can help them with those it's a big part of them staying competitive," Mr Philip said.
Sustainable food production starts at the beginning of the food chain so producing vegetable seeds that meet the needs of everyone in the chain is important.
"We're bringing in varieties with added value such as higher yields, better uniformity and improved resistances and this leads towards better sustainability because growers are achieving higher levels of efficiency and output for the same inputs," Mr Philip said.
Post-harvest performance is also a factor for success.
Jeff Billing of GSF Fresh, a supplier of high quality, fresh-cut produce to the foodservice industry, told Rijk Zwaan: "Santarinas RZ is the highest yielding Iceberg in the factory thanks to its short core and well layered internal structure."
According to feedback from growers and processors, Rijk Zwaan's Cos varieties were also showing higher levels of factory recovery for processing.
With some varieties, processors will only be able to shred 40-50 per cent of a Cos for a salad bag, but with the varieties Lotus RZ and Gradara RZ; it's regularly over 70pc yield.
In terms of innovation, the Crunchy Cos range is changing the landscape for lettuce.
The larger Crunchy Cos varieties like Coronita RZ and Verodita RZ are being used in place of tacos and flatbread wraps, offering healthier and gluten-free lettuce options for 'on the go' products.
The smaller Crunchy varieties have inspired a new trend called 'Snack lettuce', and the sweet, bite-sized leaves hold their unique spoon shape and crunch even with warm fillings or acidic toppings or dips.
"We were also excited to showcase our expanding range of Salanova with Knox at Bacchus Marsh. This combination offers many benefits for the chain," Mr Philip said.
The award-winning Knox trait delays oxidation in cut surfaces of lettuce, and a mature Salanova lettuce separates into multiple evenly proportioned, baby-sized leaves with just one cut at its base.
"We see huge growth in the pre-prepared salad segment and demand for bagged salads that offer fresh, varied leaves," Mr Philip said.
"Knox is a significant advancement for reducing waste and this extra boost to leaf quality means a better experience for consumers."
In addition to creating baby spinach varieties that are mildew resistant, a goal of Rijk Zwaan's spinach program is to develop varieties that have more harvestable leaves and therefore less waste.
"Over the years innovative breeding has led to the first and second true leaf of spinach holding their size whilst the third and fourth leaf catch up to it, so when growers harvest it's almost double the yield," Mr Philip said.
"We're now seeing varieties that have a fifth or a sixth leaf so with essentially the same inputs, we're looking to give growers an extra 20-30pc yield in the years to come."
Rijk Zwaan is aligning its sustainability activities with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
To read more visit www.rijkzwaan.com.au/sustainability
- Copy supplied by Rijk Zwaan.