Multicolored bell peppers, lettuce leaves of many shapes and tomatoes in every size: the offering of vegetables in a supermarket’s fresh produce section is abundant and diverse. “There are dozens of different vegetables and each species comes in dozens of different versions,” says Roger Muren, one of the head researchers at Bayer Vegetable Seeds in West Sacramento, California. “This means breeding and growing vegetables requires a lot of strategic planning and good choices.” In order to dish up the cornucopia of produce available today, vegetables are grown year round and in many places around the globe. But each location has its own weather pattern, amount of daylight hours and pests. This is why Muren and his colleagues at the new Bayer research facility in West Sacramento and other research sites around the world never tire and constantly work on new integrated crop strategies and innovative solutions.
Innovations for Diversity
“The integrated system allows us to better anticipate the problems that can occur in our crops,” says Fernando Gonzalez Buendia, a vegetable farmer in Almeria, Spain. And the threats are plentiful. Muren adds, “The amount of diseases challenging vegetable growers around the world cannot be fought by just one solution.” And they are constantly changing. It’s evolution in real-time.” Just in bell peppers, experts have identified numerous different pests, fungal diseases or other pathogens. “We periodically face the appearance of new viruses transmitted by aphids or whiteflies,” confirms Gonzalez. At the same time, retailers buying the produce from him and his colleagues are increasingly demanding lower crop protection residue levels due to consumer pressure. So chemical agents – although reliable and very effective – are no longer the sole solution.
This is why Bayer offers a broad portfolio of crop solutions for the vegetables market, including high quality seeds, innovative and trusted chemical crop protection products, modern biological crop protection solutions and competent services. Local and global crop specialists at Bayer transfer the knowledge of the innovation’s performance into integrated crop solutions for the growers to simplify their crop management. All elements complement each other in order to achieve higher safety and efficiency for producers as well as better quality for consumers. “Every plant starts with a seed and we are always working on new varieties for the global markets,” says Muren. A team of plant breeders, molecular and cell biologists, phytopathologists, seed technologists and bioinformaticians around the globe simultaneously work on each of the many different vegetable crops – all of which create very different requirements. And thanks to modern technologies, the global network of “seedsmen” can select from thousands of plants owning the desired properties – all this, without the need to grow and cross them first.
The integrated system allows us to better anticipate the problems that can occur in our crops.
High Quality Seeds
Thanks to molecular analyses, for example, the researchers can accurately and quickly determine what sets a plant apart from others of the same species. Additionally, breeders can easily recognize how certain environmental influences will affect a plant’s yield. Once identified, such markers can also be found in other plants, thereby further facilitating the breeding process. “This not only saves years of development but allows us to take a more targeted approach that fulfills the needs of farmers”, says Muren. Ideally, vegetables should be easy to plant and grow, be resilient against diseases, and deliver higher yields. But the methods also allow for interesting vegetable varieties such as the Intense™ tomato, with its innovative characteristic: Retaining its juice after slicing giving a higher quality to products like salads and sandwiches. A further example is the Multileaf™ salad that offers new options for leaf shapes and colors in duo and trio mixes.
High Quality Seeds
Back at the research facility in West Sacramento, another one of Muren’s colleagues is focused on a slightly different aspect of the integrated system. Bayer researcher Karl Muenks leads a team of scientists studying natural modes of plant protection and trying to apply them to different crops. “Our biological crop protection products are based on bacteria, fungi or plant extracts that are well-characterized and originally isolated from the environment,” explains Muenks. Biologicals can work by directly impacting the pest or by positively benefiting the plant, improving yield and quality. Take, for instance, the spores of a fungus that feeds on the eggs of roundworms also known as nematodes. Once the fungus has done its work, the roundworms can no longer hatch from the eggs. This protects the roots of vegetable bushes, vine shrubs and apple or nut trees alike. Another example is bacteria that control a variety of fungal and bacterial pathogens as well as improve plant health and stimulate growth. This adds protection and the quality of the harvest also increases. “Combined with chemical crop protection products, biologicals profitably support sustainable agriculture with excellent Integrated Pest Management profiles,” says Muenks.
Biologicals strengthen protection, yield, vitality and stress tolerance of crops. But they also have another very market driven advantage: “Biologicals suit current food chain developments well because many consumers are attaching more importance to the sustainable production of fruit and vegetables,” explains Muenks. In response, regulation authorities and purchasers expect high quality produce with little or no crop protection residues. “With biologicals, you can apply crop protection from the first day to the very last. Even just before the harvest,” Muenks adds. When used as part of a program integrated with traditional crop protection products, biologicals can deliver excellent crop protection with additional benefits such as reduced total residues of the crop at harvest. Technology integration from high quality seeds to sustainable crop protection targeting improved crop solutions is an important aspect for the growers and the food value chain that Muren, Muenks and their colleagues are now working on with combined effort.
Expert Think Tank
Since its inauguration at the end of 2014, the West Sacramento research site has become a synonym for innovation within Bayer and the entire crop protection industry. “This site represents a major step forward in our efforts to enhance our vegetable seeds and biological crop protection efforts,” says Adrian Percy, Global Head of Research and Development at Bayer’s Crop Science division. “The facility creates an environment where our researchers and experts can find the best possible conditions to discover solutions that our customers can depend on.” The new site has the capacity to house up to 300 employees and is situated on 10 acres of land. A 100,000-square-foot main building, a 35,000-square-foot pilot plant to support research and development of biological crop protection products, as well as a 30,000-square-foot vegetable seeds research building and a 2,000-square-foot greenhouse are the location’s highlights. In addition, five acres of nearby land for future greenhouse space has already been allocated.
Expert Think Tank
Vegetable farmer’s like Fernando Gonzalez Buendia in Almeria stand to profit greatly from this large investment. Looking to the future he sees his business with many technological innovations and improvements: “New greenhouse structures and irrigation systems are one thing I have planned. But, at the same time, I can already count on new varieties and more biological products for safe and healthy crops.”
In addition to the trusted chemical portfolio from Bayer that includes leading fungicides, herbicides and insecticides for greenhouse and outdoor vegetables and complementary consulting services in environmental safety and sustainability as well as crop strategy and efficiency, Gonzalez and other farmers around the world have plenty of choice that will leave them well set to meet consumer expectations in every local supermarket.