22 August 2023 News
In recent years, the tomato industry has faced major challenges from the spread of ToBRFV, and despite many phytosanitary measures, infection rates continue to rise. New High Resistance varieties will change this in the short term, however. Paul Grootscholten of Agro Care talks about his experiences with HREZ by Enza Zaden.
High Resistance by Enza Zaden (HREZ) is a growing collection of tomato varieties that heralds a long-awaited change for the tomato industry. The first six varieties have been on the market in the Benelux since last year; this year the range will be expanded to more than twenty HREZ varieties in almost all segments.
“To put it simply: no grower wants his plants to die,” explains Paul Grootscholten of Agro Care. “But in recent years, that has certainly been the reality. Everyone in our company has handled it well, but it's not something you can control. You're in survival mode, not knowing what the crop will be like tomorrow.” The situation at Agro Care is now completely different, however, with the arrival of the High Resistance tomato varieties by Enza Zaden. “We currently grow almost only HREZ varieties here. One variety that is not yet resistant will also be replaced next year. It’s really great for us to be able to focus fully on cultivation again now.”
The arrival of the new varieties couldn’t come soon enough for Grootscholten and his colleagues: “It was a waiting game; we were a bit on edge, of course.” Still, he's pleased with the pace at which High Resistance options have become available. After all, it was only relatively recently, in 2016, that one plant at Enza Zaden exhibited a remarkable and promising performance. While it normally can take well over seven years before that would lead to a new introduction on the market, there are already more than 500 hectares of High Resistance tomatoes from the breeding company in the Benelux.
Paul Grootscholten of Agro Care on the left and Frank van Antwerpen, Product Manager Tomato for Western Europe, on the right.
The fact that it all happened so quickly can be credited in part to Agro Care itself, which worked closely with Enza Zaden in the area of variety trials. Grootscholten: “Of course, the first resistant variety you get is not necessarily an immediate hit. Moreover, practical experience is still the best way to evaluate performance. When you see with your own eyes that the virus is staying away, it gives you confidence. We’ve conducted a lot of trials in recent years: one would fail very quickly, the next would do better. Enza Zaden came out on top.”
An important reason for the positive results is the foundation that is characteristic of the HREZ varieties: the high resistance comes from only one dominant gene, so cross-breeding has little impact on existing physiological properties. They see that at Agro Care, too: “When a new variety is so closely related to one we’ve been growing for years, it gives that little bit of extra confidence. We are also quite active in the taste segments, and the new tomatoes have fortunately done very well in the taste tests. That is really important to us, because otherwise we may lose those customers. You have to learn how to cultivate a new variety all over again, of course, but fortunately we figured out a lot of aspects quickly. The new Sunstream, for example, grows much more easily vegetatively, so you have to manage it more generatively. But that’s not a problem for us; in our profession it is normal to have to keep making adjustments. That's what makes it so much fun!”
For Enza Zaden itself, such results are also of special interest for the ongoing development of HREZ varieties. The company is therefore going full steam ahead with this, taking a more in-depth look at all the fruit and plant properties. Agro Care is happy to work towards this together with the breeder again: “After all, we also benefit from this ourselves. You can be happy that you can grow safely again, and that was naturally our number one priority, but of course it’s important to get everything else right as well. I am not married to Enza Zaden and will always go for the best variety. And right now, HREZ happens to have the best documentation, which makes it an easy choice. Now that the greatest urgency around ToBRFV has been taken care of, we can again take our time seeing how to move forward from here. For now, we're done with all the risks!”