What’s New in Vegetables?

What’s New in Vegetables?


Nearby wildfires settled a smoky haze over many of the California-based field trials this year. Shown here: Smoke from the Carr Complex fire cloaking nearby mountains, as seen at the Seeds by Design field trials.

If the vegetable crop industry were a Fortune 500 company, the seed trials would be the water cooler. Those trials are where you find out about what’s happening and hear the first whispers of big things to come.

So gather round to hear the latest from the 2018 trial season.


Welcome Back, Flavor

After almost exclusively focusing on long shelf life and disease resistance, the industry is putting flavor back on the front burner.

Breeders at HM.Clause say focusing on how squash and other vegetables taste is a natural correction. HM.Clause’s Bill Copes and Jag Dhillon say there’s considerable internal discussion on how to reach the happy medium of durability and great flavor.

Other breeders were hitting on the same theme.


Pan American’s ‘Primero Red Habanero,’ which has only a third of the heat of a normal habanero.

“The over-arching theme for our California Field Trials was that there is far more to a quality variety than just shelflife and disease resistance. Flavor is now in the spotlight,” says Josh Kirschenbaum, PanAmerican Seed Sales Account Manager for Vegetables.

Seeds by Design’s Patty Buskirk concurs.

“Young consumers are moving back to urban areas but still want to have flavorful food choices,” she says.

Consumers Want an Experience

Flavor isn’t the only consumer-focused trend at the trials. Catering to a more adventurous public means breeders are pursuing more unusual crops and accommodating the novel ways consumers are preparing old favorites.

“I am not personally interested in international travel, but many young people are,” says Buskirk. “They want to experience different cultures, flavors, and foods. Just look at the rapid increase of dragon fruit and other tropical selections in the fruit markets.”

Sakata’s Naoki Yaya, a cole crop breeder, had Asian vegetables in his trials. Some were for American markets, and others were the Asian market.


Will eating bok choy stems and flowers become popular in the U.S.? Shown here: ‘Toi Choi’ from Sakata.

By including these varieties, Yaya exposes American growers and buyers to a different way to consume crops. For example, he allowed one of the bok choy varieties to go to flower. In China, it’s popular to eat the flowers and flower stalks, and after a taste test, it could easily be popular here in the U.S.

HM.Clause is looking at new ways of eating squash and pumpkin. With butternut squash noodles gaining popularity, what can breeders do to make varieties like ‘Butterfly’ more appealing to processors packaging the vegetable noodle?

Pan American also sees consumers accepting novelty and specialty vegetables. It is introducing a habanero variety that has one-third the heat of a traditional habanero: ‘Primero Red Habanero.’

One factor driving the trend to out-of-the-norm varieties is a desire to build brand recognition. HM.Clause breeders say big growers are going after premium brand names like ‘Cuties’ clementines. Growers are looking for something that will create a similar recognition and demand in the vegetable world.

Nurturing Future Breeders

Kristen Andersen, Harris Seeds Vegetable Product Manager, and Daniel Eggert, Harris Seeds Organic Brand Manager, attended the Vegetable Breeding Institutes (VBI) field day at Cornell University. VBI is a collaboration between Cornell University and University of Wisconsin to showcase breeding programs developed by professors and students. It is made up of seed companies, breeders, and other agriculture professionals from all over the world.

The focus has a wide range of traits they are developing for, but the main focus is to create germplasm for fresh market varieties. Some varieties that were developed and are now commercially available are ‘Honeynut Squash’ and ‘Silver Slicer Cucumber.’ Other germplasm has been licensed and used in parent lines of existing hybrids. The event takes place at the end of August
and rotates between campus locations.

If you’re interested in joining or would like more information, please visit https://is.gd/VeggieBreeding.

Practicalities Still Matter

All these trends in breeding still leave plenty of room for what’s still the main objective of breeding programs: varieties that will perform best for production and post production.


The leaves of Sakata’s ‘Fire Fresh,’ a baby leaf Swiss chard, remain green, even when injured. Typically, leaves “bleed” the stem color.

Here are a couple highlights:

  • Sakata is in a perpetual dance with downy mildew in spinach. It introduced a variety with race 16 resistance. A variety with race 17 resistance is already in progress.
  • Chard breeders are aiming for more intense color in the stems while keeping that color away from the leaves. When insects nibble, brightly colored chards tend to show bright red wounds on the leaves.
  • Fresh-market beets strive for uniformity.
  • Sakata is introducing greens whose edible parts of the leaf extend to the bottom of the stem shaft. These varieties are also more upright, making harvesting easier.

Melons (multiple breeders)

  • Long a standard in Asia, then Europe, grafting melons is quickly becoming the standard in the U.S. The days of growing watermelon on its own rootstock are all but over, as one breeder told us. The key rootstock? A cucurbit loofah-like sponge.
  • Fusarium 3 was found in Florida melons. But there’s a silver lining: Syngenta breeders say wild melons are resistant to Fusarium.
  • male-watermelon-at-Syngenta

    Male pollinizing watermelons at Syngenta.

    Syngenta highlighted a line of melons designed to improve pollination, the Super Pollenizers line. Its newest Super Pollenizers introduction, ‘SP-7,’ delivers two times more early male blooms that are 25% larger than the previous intro, ‘SP-6.’ It provides pollen throughout the entire growing season with no competitive effect on the yield of seedless watermelon.
    Syngenta’s Woodland, CA, trial location also houses its Syngenta Global Cucurbits Center of Excellence.

5 Trends Consumers Look for in Vegetables and Fruit

Seeds by Design’s Patty Buskirk shared five trends she thinks drives consumer buying decisions in produce:

  1. Exceptional Flavor
  2. Environmentally Friendly
  3. Ethnic Variety
  4. New Food Experiences
  5. Local Choices