02 Jun 2019

Working together to secure our food future

The future of farming and food production is a shared responsibility. While the world’s population is increasing at a rapid rate, and available arable land and water are becoming increasingly scarce, this presents opportunities for key players in the industry to explore new pathways for vegetable development.

Vegetable seeds are positioned at the beginning of the food chain, so breeders play a vital part in ensuring the sustainability of food.

Rijk Zwaan’s R&D Business Manager, Tim March, explained: “This involves taking what we can from the diversity in nature and incorporating that with cultivated varieties to give growers what they need agronomically, now and into the future, while meeting consumer demands to stimulate vegetable consumption.”

More than 10 years ago, we asked lettuce farmers and processors what they needed to sustain their business. The feedback was to reduce waste by improving the shelf life of cut lettuce. In 2016, Rijk Zwaan released the Knox trait, which delays the browning on cut surfaces by two days. Similarly, discovering a natural blue leaf trait in cucumber plants, which enables the plant to absorb more light and nutrients and respond better to stressful situations like temperature fluctuations and pest and disease pressure, is now been bred into commercial varieties. This ensures more productive plants all year round.

In Australia, snacking in between meals and on the go is becoming increasingly popular, and more than 60% of households snack on vegetables at least occasionally. Breeders are focusing on developing flavoursome varieties with good resistances that can be grown around the world using medium-tech and high-tech methods. The expected growth in this segment means seed companies are continuously innovating and improving the product ranges by adding new colours, shapes and flavours. We are now seeing innovations in snack lettuce, lettuce wraps and sweeter salad cabbages. 

“With Australia’s population expected to reach 30 million by 2029, it’s now more important than ever that we are working with the whole chain to develop local varieties with specific resistances to diseases or natural traits that help food stay fresher for longer, improving yields and reliability, and developing varieties that meet external demands for convenience foods, and organic and hydroponic production,” Tim said.

“On the consumer side, seed companies like ourselves, as well as growers, are working with initiatives such as Love My Salad to educate consumers about vegetables.”

In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 Sustainable Development Goals for a better world by 2030. As a vegetable breeder, we shoulder the responsibility for sustainable farming by supporting the specific goals: to end hunger and achieve food security and improved nutrition; to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth; to ensure sustainable consumption; and production patterns and to strengthen partnerships.

"Vegetable breeders around the world routinely cooperate in primary research to solve major issues that face the industry; it's bigger than any one company and at the end of the day everyone is in this together," Tim said.

“We have to take a long term view of the industry and find solutions to some of the problems we are facing so we can achieve sustainability and economic security for our growers.”  

For more information, please visit www.rijkzwaan.com.au/sustainability