Breeder Nicoletta Bertolin inspects a carrot seed production field in a Bejo greenhouse in North Holland. – Photo: Bejo
As a supplier of seeds for outdoor vegetable growing, Bejo has a selection of more than 40 different crops and more than 1000 varieties. More than 35 crops and more than 170 varieties are available worldwide specifically for organic cultivation, and these numbers are growing.
For the Benelux market, the organic range today consists of 31 crops and 77 varieties. Bejo strives to offer at least one variety with organic seed for each crop category.
Sustainable cultivation with a high yield, exceptional product quality and ultimately healthy and tasty food; it all starts with the best organic seeds of the best varieties. In the 1990s, Bejo was one of the first breeders to fully integrate ‘organic’ into their activities. In the previous decade, the world became more and more aware of the importance of sustainability. More emphasis was placed on the impact of plant protection products and fertilizers on the environment, increasing the demand for organic vegetables.
As a family business, Bejo believes in this sustainable approach in the long term and with the development of the organic activities they can build on the broad genetic knowledge, experience and infrastructure that has been built up within the last century. The organic production method also seems to be instructive for conventional production and breeding, because robust varieties that at the same time give a good final product under pressure from disease and pests are desirable for both organic and conventional production. And the hot water and steam vacuum treatment also proves its worth as a non-chemical seed disinfection in both biological and conventional seed treatment.
Seed breeding at Bejo
Breeding for organic varieties also means significant investments with the aim of developing varieties with better resistance and high yield and producing high quality seeds. Consider, for example, the development of resistant varieties. In the 1980s, Bejo got hold of a source of downy mildew found in a wild onion. Breeders saw the potential. The fungus (Peronospora destructor) can cause quite a bit of damage. The resistant wild variety was included in the crossing and selection programs. In the 2000s – after 20 years of breeding – it resulted in the first onion variety with high resistance to downy mildew. This was an important step for organic farming.
The breeders at Bejo work simultaneously for both the organic and the conventional market. This makes sense because both markets need advancements for the same properties. If you can fix it with the right genetics, you don’t need to use chemicals.
Stack resistances and tolerances
Varieties become more valuable as they combine more health traits, and this means accumulating as many resistances and tolerances to fungi, bacteria and insects as possible. In addition, other properties are also useful, such as power (powerful). This ensures that your crop grows quickly and uniformly, resulting in less irrigation or weeding, and your crop is more resilient to hotter summers.
Seed production at Bejo
The production of high-quality seeds is an intensive process. Most crops are biennials, they must survive the winter in good health to flower and set seed in the second year. It places special demands on the cultivation and the area. The climate is important. Winters should not be too harsh and sufficient cold induction is needed to get the crop to shoot and then the right weather conditions for flowering and pollination. In addition, disease pressure and weeds are decisive for the possibilities of organic seed production. Insects are the biggest enemy, because an attack by aphids or lygus can completely destroy a seed production.
The seed grower must also take the environment into account. After all, unplanned cross-pollination must be avoided. Plant protection product residues are also a point of attention. Organic seed is strictly controlled and the threshold values are extremely low. The ground and surroundings must be clean. Spraying on a neighbor’s land can be disastrous. Even when using natural resources, care must be taken because the guidelines for organic farming are not the same everywhere.
Vegetables are only truly organic if they are grown with organically produced seed. In any case, this is the starting point for the European directive for organic farming. Bejo offers organic seed (OS) for this. This seed is organically produced, naturally disinfected, cleaned and coated and approved by the organic certification authorities.
For many crops, the use of naturally cleaned and coated (NCC) seed, conventional seed without chemical treatments, is currently allowed. For, among other things, beetroot, carrots, brassica and leafy crops, growers can still choose between NCC seed or organically produced seed.
Bejo will continue to offer coatings with a chemical plant protection component to the conventional market at the customer’s request. A chemical coating basically consists of the same components as NCC and biological coating, but also contains a minimal amount of plant protection agents that protect the seedling against fungi in the soil. With these coatings, growers can use significantly fewer plant protection products in the first weeks after emergence compared to granular or full-field spraying. This cum is called cleaned and coated (CC) cum. Like NCC seeds, CC seeds are also naturally disinfected and cleaned.
All Bejo seeds (OS, NCC and CC) have undergone very advanced testing, cleaning, gluing and calibration operations and can be further improved by e.g. pelleting, coating or priming including B-Mox®.
Before a particular cross becomes a new variety, it has been intensively tested for years under various conditions. An example: For allium, Bejo sows around 46,000 plots each year in breeding trials worldwide, both for conventional and organic. This produces about 10 new varieties each year.
A new variety is only introduced if it has added value in certain characteristics and if it otherwise performs at least as well as existing varieties. Curious about Bejo’s organic seed story in picture and sound? You can see that here.