Greenhouse Product News

June 2020

The business magazine for commercial growers

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Page 14 of 44

14 JUNE 2020 GPNMAG.COM duets BY PETER KONJOIAN AND MICHELLE KLIEGER M y guest today is Michelle Klieger, founder and president of Stratagerm Consulting, an agricultural consulting firm serving the global seed industry. She has worked with indoor and vertical growers on their seed selection processes. Michelle earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland in 2008 in Animal Science, her master's degree in Agricultural Economics from Purdue University in 2015 and an MBA from Indiana University's Kelley School of Business in 2015. Peter: Thanks for joining us, Michelle. Cultivar selection is the focus of one of my messages to greenhouse growers and vertical farm operators. Your perspective in this area runs deeper than mine; how are you educating growers regarding plant breeding and cultivar selection? Michelle: The growers I'm working with tend to view all seeds as the same. They purchase one from a catalog and plant it. On the other side, plant breeders work hard so that each new variety is an advancement — sometimes a huge advancement. It must be. In many countries there is a registration process to prove the seed is better than other products on the market. In the United States, we believe that customers will only purchase a new variety if it's better than what they used last year. Peter: Drawing from my years as an ornamental crop grower and researcher, we have a handful of seed and cutting cultivars that, after decades of market presence, continue to lead the pack. And on the other side, we need to be vigilant in keeping pace to identify another handful of new introductions that may ascend to market leader status. In between there's a whole lot of trialing, testing, and thinning of scores of other new introductions every year. Comment further on the point you made that if it's new then it must be better. Michelle: We need to take a step backward here. Better means different things to different growers. A better flower might have a more vibrant color. A better tomato plant might have a higher yield. There are millions of characteristics that breeders consider when selecting new varieties. They might be looking for disease resistance, early harvest or even a specific flavor. I've also participated in melon trials where we tried different cantaloupe. The sweeter melons are for U.S. markets and the less sweet melons are grown in Asian markets. As a grower, you are considering all of these features and purchasing the seed that best fit your needs. Peter: Help us understand from a breeding perspective the challenges indoor and vertical production bring to the table. I've heard you say what's better for traditional outdoor production systems is not necessarily what's better for indoor and greenhouse high-density controlled environment agriculture (CEA) production systems. Michelle: Better for outdoor agriculture means a better disease resistance package, more drought tolerance or earlier maturity. Better for indoor agriculture means something completely different and this is the conversation I want to be having. Seed companies have thousands of varieties in their research portfolios. These are all varieties that didn't make the cut for outdoor agriculture, most likely because they lacked disease resistance. Indoors, you don't need that same coverage, so many of these varieties might be a great option. Additionally, they might taste better, have different coloring, or grow well in a different/ controlled environment. Peter: I believe these distinctions are pretty easy for growers in either traditional or CEA production to grasp. However, some frustration exists over the gap in breeding effort to support CEA production. We've been told this is market driven and because the cost of bringing a new cultivar to market is high the economics are such that we have a chicken or egg dilemma. It can't be bred until the market can support it. Can you provide additional insight? Michelle: There are two levels of effort here. Commercializing a totally new variety takes about seven years and a lot of investment. At this level, plant breeders have a hard time justifying the cost for a small market, especially one that is not uniform. Each vertical agriculture system is different, making it hard to breed for. However, there are enough similarities across greenhouses that there are entire brands dedicated to greenhouse product. The other level is to test current cultivars in CEA production. This means take all the varieties that are not commercially available right now and start growing them under specific CEA conditions. Do any of these do better than what is currently available? Running trials with seeds that already exist has a much lower R&D cost than breeding new varieties. This could help solve the chicken and egg problem. Peter: That's a great point, Michelle; it brings to mind that saying … One man's trash is another man's treasure. Figure 1 shows two Pak Choi cultivars I grew in plug trays Peter Konjoian is president of Konjoian's Horticulture Education Services Inc. His career spans four decades as a commercial grower, researcher and consultant. Michelle Klieger is founder and president of Stratagerm Consulting, an agricultural consulting firm serving the global seed industry. Konjoian can be reached at [email protected] Greenhouse and Vertical Farm Food Production: Cultivar Selection, Plant Breeding and Seed Quality

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