Brassica breeding is second nature to Meindert Boon. The Brassica Breeding Lead for Bayer Vegetable Seeds provides over 30 years of experience, as both a dedicated breeder and expert.
Growing up on a tulip and vegetable farm in the Netherlands under the watchful eye of his farmer father, Meindert developed a passion for agriculture and especially vegetables, at an early age.
“My father, who ran the farm when I was growing up, was always looking at what he could do differently. So, creativity is embedded in my genes and in this unique industry, I incorporate innovation, especially when dealing with brassica. I develop varieties that are consumer and grower friendly and keep one eye on the needs of the future,” says Meindert.
Recognised as one of the 20 most innovative breeders in the European Seed Sector for 2019, Meindert was humbled to find out his dedication and contribution to developing brassica varieties that feature key traits, such as ease of harvest, high yield potential, good uniformity and disease resistance were paying off.
“It was a very nice surprise and I felt honoured,” he said. “I see this recognition as a brassica breeding team effort.”
While new trends are always emerging, Meindert and his breeding team say it’s important to have a vision when developing new breeding programs, to ensure key traits are relevant to current circumstances but also give growers some confidence in their performance as conditions change. Yield potential, adaptability, climate variability and labour costs are all focus areas in Meindert’s breeding programs.
“Innovation is at the core of my approach to brassica breeding. By this I mean, pre-empting grower needs and aligning with future trends for both the consumer and industry as a whole. With our breeding priorities, we ensure new varieties help solve challenges, slow down, or stop them from appearing.
“For example, let’s consider labour. Labour in New Zealand is one of a growers’ highest input costs, so operational efficiencies that can help reduce it – uniformity, less harvest passes, cleaner stems that are easier to cut and trim – are part of their mindset. We try to think like growers and so we are helping them at the seed level, through genetics that have been developed to reduce manual labour costs. Our High-Rise™ portfolio, with varieties like Titanium and Eiffel come to mind here.
“Yield also plays a key part in brassica breeding as predictable and good yield allows for good investments. For growers, consistent quality and high yield potential make broccoli a profitable crop. Yield will always be a foundation for our varieties,” says Meindert.
Meindert began work on the High-Rise program 25 years ago, with labour savings and yield front of mind. The program is showing success in New Zealand, with Titanium becoming available in recent months and Eiffel, another High-Rise type, not far behind.
High Rise types allow for easier harvest when compared to traditional varieties as plants have extended visible crowns, clean stems with a reduced number of leaves under the crown, and improved plant architecture for a more uniform crop.
“I am pleased New Zealand growers now have Titanium.
“We have had good success with this variety in other countries, like Spain. At an open day, I spoke with growers reporting considerable labour savings,” Meindert says.
While we continue to face climate variability, Meindert and his team have growers wants and needs at the forefront of their breeding programs.
“We have organised the breeding program on a global basis and have Research and Development facilities in major production areas. This enables us to develop and combine gene pools from many locations, ensuring breeders are better able to develop varieties with broad adaptability to local conditions,” Meindert explains.
As for New Zealand, Meindert hopes to visit soon.
“It is always exciting to hear from growers directly about the performance of innovative products like High Rise broccoli and see their minds open to its potential. I hope we can meet soon,” Meindert says.
To learn about the brassica breeding process, look at this series of videos from the Seminis Brassica IX event.