Over the past decade, our pumpkin variety Orange Summer has become a hit in Europe and across the globe in the summer, autumn and, now, year round thanks to exporting from South Africa and New Zealand.
Pumpkins and squashes have been part of Enza Zaden’s portfolio ever since the company took over the Australian breeding company Yates in 2003. “Around 15 years ago, the pumpkin and squash market were very modest in size,” Crop Research Director Ralf Kuijpers explains. “The range was dominated by landraces (locally adapted, traditional varieties) for organic cultivation. Nevertheless, we saw a lot of potential. The breeding program started by Yates was expanded and linked to the activities of our subsidiary Vitalis Organic Seeds, which specialises in the organic seed market.”
A number of factors helped develop the favourable market outlook for pumpkins. Demand for organically grown vegetables was steadily rising in western countries and prompted supermarket chains to start looking to add organic produce. Being relatively easy to grow organically, pumpkins and squashes were an ideal way to meet both growers’ and consumers’ wishes. At the same time, organic cultivation was becoming more professional, and the demand grew for varieties that combined more predictable, high yields with uniform, flavoursome fruits with good shelf life. “This combination of factors is still the driving force behind the growing demand for hybrid pumpkin and squash varieties,” Kuijpers shared. “When we introduced Orange Summer F1 some years after the breeding program was launched, the market was more or less completely ready for it.”
Orange Summer proved that pumpkins were an excellent addition to organic product ranges and offered exceptional qualities when compared with the main orange pumpkin variety grown at the time, Uchiki Kuri. According to Pauline Kerbiriou, Crop Breeding Manager, “Orange Summer is an easy-to-grow, high-yielding variety that produces very uniform, flavoursome fruits. Because the plants are compact and easy to manage, it also takes a lot less time to keep the plot weed-free as you can use mechanical weed control for longer. That was – and is – a massive benefit for organic growers. It is also a reliable variety in the sense that it copes well with changing growing conditions and is not particularly susceptible to diseases.”
In Europe, pumpkins and squashes are a seasonal product, available in summer and autumn only. Once Orange Summer had made its mark on all fronts over several years, consumers, retailers and wholesalers wanted it to be available at other times of the year as well. Exporting from South Africa offered an answer to this demand. “Until recently, there was virtually no demand for orange pumpkins in South Africa,” Matome Ramokgopa, General Manager of Enza Zaden South Africa, explains. “So working with a local grower and a Dutch importer, we started producing Orange Summer on a small scale in 2015. The trial was a great success. We currently supply seed to around 20 farmers, who are growing several hundred hectares of Orange Summer this season. Also, our production period lasts much longer than in Europe due to the differences in climate zones and altitude. We can cultivate these pumpkins almost year-round.”
New Zealand is also latching on to the trend with an increasing growing area for various pumpkins and squashes, predominantly cultivated for export to Japan and Europe.
To date, no other pumpkin hybrid has come anywhere close to Orange Summer’s success.
“My colleagues in Malaysia and India are working on new varieties exclusively for the tropics and subtropics,” Kerbiriou explains. “They are using different types and genetic lines than my colleague in Europe and I, so you could actually describe us as two specialist breeding teams. But we still exchange knowledge and genetic material with each other, for instance for crossing backwards and forwards to improve resistance traits. That’s the nice thing about working for this company: Enza Zaden has such a wide-ranging pumpkin and squash program that you can innovate on many different fronts, including interspecific crossings.
The success of Orange Summer certainly increases your appetite for more, but these game changers are extremely rare,” Kuijpers states. “Despite that, we have a large team of highly competent people working specifically on this segment. I don’t know of any other breeding company that has such a broad and geographically widespread pumpkin and squash program. And we need that, so that we can continue to offer growers and consumers the best possible products – wherever they are.”