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Seeds of change: a systems-based approach to plant breeding

Under the Farm to Fork strategy, the European Commission has set a target for at least 25 % of agricultural land in the EU to be under organic farming by 2030. This is an important element of the European Green Deal. Achieving this goal will require the development and dissemination of new organic cultivars, and the EU-funded LIVESEED (improve performance of organic agriculture by boosting organic seed and plant breeding efforts across Europe) project sought to support this by tackling the issue of organic seed availability and quality from a variety of angles, from market aspects through to regulation. Launched in 2017, the project brought together 48 organizations from 18 European countries, including plant researchers, crop breeders, seed producers, organic associations, and retailers.

New approaches
One of the researchers involved is Edwin Nuijten, a plant scientist at De Beersche Hoeve in the Netherlands, who led a part of the work plan that focused on how different breeding approaches can support and strengthen each other. “Breeding is not only about producing the best plant for the best field, but it’s also a process, we need to take into account also the social aspects,” he says. LIVESEED’s goal was to combine the best elements of different plant breeding approaches.

The consortium identified four specific approaches, referred to as ecosystem-based, community-based, trait-based, and corporate-based. Ecosystem-based approaches examine how a crop interacts with and can contribute to the surrounding environment. Community-based approaches have a strong connection between the breeder and growers, seeking to maximize societal value to them. Trait-based approaches pursue broader societal benefits by improving specific traits, such as increasing the concentration of essential vitamins in crops, while corporate-based approaches seek to maximize profit and minimize costs. “These are all value-driven but their values are different,” adds Nuijten. “This is not to say that some values are better than others, but to ask how we can connect them so that they strengthen each other, and improve ecological and social resilience.”

Knowledge platform
The consortium gathered information on breeding techniques and published a number of research papers. More than 800 organic farmers were consulted on various aspects related to plant breeding and seed markets, and LIVESEED contributed to the expansion of the Organic Farm Knowledge Platform with a dedicated section on these themes. The LIVESEED project also developed a router database at the EU scale which enables seed suppliers to enter offers into other national databases with a single entry.

The team is now working on the implementation of their findings, drafting guidelines for implementing a combined breeding approach. The situation is acute, as developing new crop varieties is a slow process, and breeders must act now to prepare for agricultural challenges in the future, such as tighter restrictions on pesticide use and a changing climate. In addition, notes Nuijten, farmers and consumers are threatened by dysfunction in the plant breeding and seed market. “When you look at conventional breeding, two or three companies dominate the market of each fruit and vegetable. If one company terminates its breeding program, farmers are wholly dependent on the other.

“Even for conventional agriculture, the situation is not sustainable,” he explains. “Organic seed and plant breeding can provide an opportunity to think about more sustainable breeding approaches. We need to develop many more new alternatives, so this resource is useful for all farmers,” says Nuijten. “It’s often said that organic food is too expensive, but you could say that conventional food is too cheap – take hidden costs into account and a different picture emerges.”


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Israel announces creation of global seed company

Two Israeli seed producers, Nirit Seeds and TomaTech, have joined forces to create Israel’s largest vegetable seed company. This synergy will enable unique seed breeding research and development that will accelerate the company’s growth in the international seed markets.

Upon completion of the merger, the company will have more than 80 employees worldwide, including molecular biologists, breeders, agronomists, and others.
The company will improve its breeding activities in Israel, Spain, Mexico and Italy, as well as significantly expand its representation in the Netherlands and North America, with a particular focus on growing vegetables in high-tech greenhouses.

Nirit Seeds is one of the most successful internationally traded tomato and pepper seed producers, investing in the development of revolutionary genetic technologies. TomaTech is one of the leading tomato seed companies in Israel, developing premium varieties, including those resistant to the dangerous Tomato Brown Ruffle Virus (ToBRFV).

The production of crop seeds is one of the most advanced and high-tech sectors in Israel. According to the Seed Department of the Federation of Israel Chambers of Commerce, seed exports currently generate $200 million in annual revenue. There are about 25 large and medium-sized companies in the local industry.

For reference. According to market research, the global vegetable seed industry is valued at $8 billion a year and is growing at a CAGR of 8%.

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Karachay-Cherkessia became one of the leaders in the production of greenhouse vegetables at the end of 2021


Greenhouse vegetable production in 2021 reached a record 1.4 million tonnes. According to the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation, the leaders among the regions in this segment are the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, Lipetsk, Moscow, Kaluga, Volgograd, Novosibirsk, Saratov, Chelyabinsk regions, Krasnodar and Stavropol Territories, the Republics of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan. These regions account for more than 60% of the total production in the country. The intensive development of greenhouse projects in our country helps to provide Russians with fresh vegetables all year round. Last year, the harvest in winter greenhouses updated the 2020 record – more than 1.4 million tons of products were received. Including the production of cucumbers amounted to at least 830 thousand tons, and tomatoes – 590 thousand tons. It is expected that by 2025 the volume of vegetable production in year-round greenhouses will be at least 1.6 million tons of vegetables.


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December: Special Year Overview

In 2022, it will be 22 year since the new millennium started. Can’t believe it? Neither can we, but it is true. Before we go there, it is time to reflect on what has happened this year. Over the next couple of weeks, we will look back at 2021 and we will highlight the most important events that impacted the industry.

New greenhouses, events, even a few shows, technical novelties, and all other relevant news will pass by, offering you something other than Covid to talk about during Christmas and New Years’.


Wish your customers Happy Holidays
This special also offers an opportunity to put your company in the spotlight with a banner in this special box. This banner can be booked until December 24 on our newsletters. For more information, feel free to send an email to: 

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