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It all depends on the seed
New vegetable varieties bring diversity to the plate

Monheim, August 2010 – A feast for the eyes: carrots in yellow, white, purple and
orange. This brightly colored mixture of root vegetables is currently taking the fresh
vegetable counters in American supermarkets by storm. In Denmark, too, there are
sweet-tasting snack carrots in handy 100 gram packs. Plus a range of different varieties
to grill, braise or cook in a wok. Where tomatoes have long led the way in terms of variety
of color and taste, carrots are now following suit. As well as tomatoes and carrots, a
variety of melons and lettuce with curly or smooth leaves are now tempting customers on
the vegetable shelves. Then there are peppers, with their traffic light colors gleaming
between orange pumpkins, green zucchini or the red flesh of water melons cut in half.

Brightly colored carrots, seedless water melons or sweet tomatoes: the consumer’s
vegetable wish list is long and varied and seed producers and plant breeders want to
meet their requirements. Using traditional and modern breeding methods, they ensure a
brightly colored diversity on the vegetable shelves. It isn’t only consumers’ wishes that
have to be considered, however. The needs of farmers and wholesalers are also key
concerns of the global vegetable business: for example, research is being carried out on
seeds which produce a good yield despite adverse external influences, and on improved
storage and transport qualities. Nunhems, Bayer CropScience’s vegetable seed business,
is one of the world's leading suppliers in this business.

The “no tears” onion
Apart from appearance, the authentic taste of the individual varieties of vegetable is also
crucial to a balanced and healthy diet. For breeders this means that they always listen
closely to what consumers want: sweet cocktail tomatoes that should disappear with a
single bite and heart-shaped tomatoes as a favorite party treat. Tomberries, measuring
less than a centimeter in diameter, have now set a record as the smallest tomatoes in the
world – and are advertised as “tomato caviar.”

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The trend towards single-person households in the big cities is also not without
repercussions for vegetable varieties: water melons for the small refrigerator are just as
much in demand as the bright salad mixes which are on sale on the supermarket shelves
pre-washed, chopped and ready-to-eat. A new product line for the food-processing
industry in particular is “multileaf”, a lettuce head which with a single cut falls into many
equal-sized leaves. The “no tears” onion, which is still at the development stage, is also
likely to be a runaway success, not only amongst amateur cooks. Vegetable varieties are
therefore being continuously developed. “We are constantly breeding new varieties, as on
average the market only stays interested in a product for four years,” says Ko Remijnse,
Managing Director Marketing & Sales at Nunhems. New varieties are the result of a
process of crossing and selection which can often take over ten years. Seed breeding is
as old as agriculture itself; farmers have always selected the best plants, collected the
seeds and so adapted plants to changing environmental conditions.

Breeders and plant researchers moving closer together
At Nunhems, the key is integrated breeding: a concept which makes research
considerably more effective. A multidisciplinary team of plant breeders, molecular and cell
biologists, plant pathologists, seed technologists and bioinformaticians work on each of
the 28 crops, all of which have their own separate requirements. “By means of integrated
breeding, we can select those plants with the desired characteristics from amongst
thousands at an early growth stage, without first having to let them mature,” says Roger
Muren, Head of Cell Biology at Nunhems in the breeding center at Davis, California.

What this means is that breeders and plant researchers are increasingly working closer
together: thanks to molecular analysis in the laboratory, scientists can now determine
more accurately and more quickly what distinguishes a plant from others of the same
species. And in this way breeders can more selectively choose the crosses that have
particular quality characteristics. Once they have been identified, such characteristics can
also be diagnosed in future in other plants – and provide valuable pointers for breeding.
“This not only saves us years of development work, but we can also respond even more
specifically to farmers’ needs by breeding new and improved varieties,” explains Muren.
Vegetables should be easy to grow, as resistant as possible to diseases – and preferably
give an even better yield.

Breeding stations around the world

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Plants now also have to be able to cope with the consequences of climate change.
Cabbage in Asia, for example, needs to be able to withstand severe flooding, and
tomatoes in India need to be able to tolerate higher temperatures than is necessary in
Europe. Since conditions vary from region to region, Nunhems breeding stations are
operated in the most important vegetable-producing regions around the world. There, the
new varieties are adapted to local conditions and requirements.

Practical and tasty – Sweet melon Magenta
A uniform appearance is especially important for vegetables which are to be processed by
machine later. For example, the machines which cut water melons and honeydew melons
into bite-size cubes for pre-packed fruit salad are only efficient if the fruit are of a
consistent size and shape. In the case of melons, breeders have recorded other positive
results: for example, they have succeeded in growing seedless water melons and
developing a cantaloupe melon with the name “Magenta” which has particularly sweet
orange flesh.

However, it is still a long way from a successful harvest to having the vegetable on a plate.
Researchers are focusing more on the entire product chain. Nunhems’ “Intense” tomatoes
are especially suitable for a healthy sandwich as a snack: they are very easy to slice
without losing a lot of juice. “We try to combine all these requirements in our varieties and
then bring the seeds to market as quickly as possible,” explains Remijnse.

From the field to the shopping basket - a race against time
Vegetables have to be easy to transport and store, as they continue to “live” even after
they have been harvested: Valuable constituents are broken down and mold infestation
can lead to a loss of quality long before it is identified by brown marks or soft spots. It is a
race against time for the retailers and logistics. A new system that researchers are
developing at the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering, Potsdam-Bornim, could
make quality control easier during the journey: information such as temperature or
storage time is recorded and analyzed at a central point. As a result, strawberries from
Spain, for example, can be sold at another place on the transport route in time before they
go moldy.

Bayer CropScience with its Food Chain Partnership program gives all those involved in
the food chain transparency all the way to the shopping basket. Consumers as well as
transporters, distributors and farmers benefit from the more than 200 projects which are
now running in over 40 countries. In a pilot project in the Indian province of Punjab, for

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example, the entire food chain from cultivation to sale was optimized: in co-operation with
the Joint Venture Bharti-Walmart, all the stages from the correct seed and fertilizer
selection to effective crop protection and transport and sale of the goods came under
scrutiny. By the end of the project, the farmers had increased their income by 35 percent -
and the customers of the Bharti food markets were able to buy fresher and healthier

In Mexico, too, local fruit and vegetable producers have received support. In a partnership
with Mexico Calidad Suprema, one of the leading certification organizations, farmers are
learning to meet the requirements of the global export markets – in particular North
America and Europe. “The task of our Food Chain Manager is to get all those involved on
board and to support them with integrated solutions, training and modern technology, so
that they, too, can achieve these quality goals,” says Dr. Rüdiger Scheitza, member of the
Board of Management of Bayer CropScience. “The co-operation of all partners in the
value added chain - industry, farmers, certification authorities, wholesalers and retailers -
is necessary in order to be able to implement international quality standards.”

Different regions – different tastes
Just as the challenges for vegetable cultivation vary in the different regions of the world,
so, too, do tastes: for example, both Indians and Mexicans like hot varieties of chili and
pepper, in Asia there is a general preference for pink tomatoes and children in the USA
enjoy their snack carrots during break at school. But what exactly makes up the flavor of a
plant? Staff at Nunhems’s food laboratory in Davis, California, are looking for answers to
this question, examining in particular the constituents of a vegetable that affect their flavor
and storage quality. Their findings so far are helping breeders to work specifically towards
the desired characteristics.

Like customers, plant breeders also enjoy having a wide variety to choose from: the art of
successful breeding involves maintaining and constantly extending positive characteristics.
Hardly any of the vegetable varieties enjoyed today would exist without human
intervention - even though the multicolored carrots may appear strange at first sight, the
new varieties actually lead the vegetable a step closer back to its roots. This is because
today’s crop probably originated in the Middle East and Egypt - as a cross between white
carrots from the Mediterranean area and yellow and reddish purple turnips from

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Horticultural and culinary history of the tomato
“Tumatl” was the name given by the Aztecs to the red fruit of this member of the
nightshade family, which spread from Venezuela and Northern Chile to the lower Andes
regions of Peru and ultimately to Mexico. Even today, the widest variety of cultivated
tomatoes is found in Central America, where they were already being grown about 200
years BC. Christopher Columbus brought the first tomatoes to Europe in 1498 – initially
merely as ornamental plants. Whilst the Italians started using tomatoes in their cooking as
long ago as the early 18th century, and were soon followed by the French and English,
the Germans only acquired a taste for them in about 1900.

Tomatoes owe their red color to lycopene, a carotinoid which also colors rose hips and
ladybirds red and is used as a colorant in foods and cosmetics. Lycopene is an
antioxidant and is considered to be a radical scavenger. There is evidence to suggest that
lycopene reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In African folk medicine,
fresh tomato leaves are used for eye disorders and in India for the treatment of influenza.

All about seeds

- A kilogram of tomato seed contains about 300,000 seeds.

- The largest seeds come from the Seychelles palm: its nuts – also known as “Coco de
Mer” - are 30 to 50 centimeters in diameter and weigh ten to 22 kilograms.

- The smallest seed in the world is that of orchids: it is only 0.25 to 1.2 millimeters long,
100,000 orchid seeds weigh just 1 gram.

- The seeds of a date palm lay buried deep below the rubbish of the former Jewish
fortification of Masada for a good 1,900 years. Now there is a date palm growing out of

- There are some very dangerous seeds with a poisonous shell: a few seeds from the
ricinus plant, for example, can kill an adult.

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- Located about 140 meters deep in an Arctic mountain on Spitsbergen in Norway, the
Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) collects seeds from all over the world to prevent the
plants from dying out. Up to 4.5 million seed samples, or about 95 per cent of endangered
crops, have a place in the bunker.

Links you may wish to follow up:

There is more information on the subject of colored carrots at

All about water melons, with and without seeds.

More information on global crop diversity can be found on the GCDT website.

For detailed information about individual vegetable varieties, visit the website of the
vegetable seed producer Nunhems.

Other Bayer CropScience “Food Chain Partnership” projects can be found on the
following webseite:

The International Seed Testing Association ISTA provides background information on the
subject of seeds.

The German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection publishes
statistics and agricultural reports from the Ministry’s various areas of responsiblity.

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Fruit and vegetable industry trade fair: Asia Fruit Logistica on September 8 – 10, 2010 in
Hong Kong

Hermann-Josef Baaken, Tel.: 02173 38-5598
Find more information at

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This release may contain forward-looking statements based on current assumptions and forecasts made by Bayer Group or subgroup
management. Various known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors could lead to material differences between the actual
future results, financial situation, development or performance of the company and the estimates given here. These factors include
those discussed in Bayer’s public reports which are available on the Bayer website at The company assumes no
liability whatsoever to update these forward-looking statements or to conform them to future events or developments.

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