August 20. 2019 – I had the pleasure of attending the Vitalis Organic Seed Field Day in San Juan Bautista, California on Thursday, August 15th. The company was founded in The Netherlands in 1994 and is a division of Enza Zaden, the global leader in organic seed production and breeding. All Vitalis varieties are certified organic and they work closely with regional organic seed dealers to serve the needs of open field, high tunnel, and greenhouse growers. It was interesting to learn about which traits are desirable for different regions and types of production. The future success of organic agriculture depends on breeders like Vitalis who work to develop new varieties for organic and low-external-input systems.
The event began with a reception on Wednesday evening at the Hacienda de Leal where Erica Renaud, Regional Organic, Herb & Arugula Business Manager, welcomed guests.
After dinner, a presentation on Organic Plant Breeding by Dr. Bill Tracy, Endowed Chair of Organic Plant Breeding at the University of Wisconsin, provided a historical perspective of breeding from Charles Darwin to the present day. He spoke about the importance of understanding that you cannot change one part of the system without changing other parts.
OFRF provided a grant to Dr. Tracy in 2008 for a participatory plant breeding project to improve sweet corn for organic farmers in cool climates. The grant paved the way for a new open-pollinated sweet corn variety called, “Who Gets Kiss?” that came to market in 2014, led to several additional research projects with significant impacts in the world of organic seed breeding and an important research network that continues today.
The next morning, seed dealers from across the country walked the research fields with Vitalis staff—many carrying a towel and knife to slice off a taste. Listening to the regional seed dealers question Vitalis breeders about the characteristics of the vegetables they are growing at the research station, provided some interesting insights into what’s important for different types of growing, in different regions. These dealers know what their customers want and look to Vitalis to provide it.