PLANT BREEDING

PLANT-BREEDINGCUTTING THROUGH THE ROUGH  – Part II

See also: Part I, new varieties, better informed pdf

Modern breeding and propagation techniques speed up the process of creating new and unusual genetic combinations but it still takes several years from the first crosses or selections to the introduction of a new variety.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor seed raised varieties, it is a relatively simple step to arrive at an interesting new variety. Then comes the effort and expense of testing it for seed productivity in various locations and countries and for seed quality and to determe the best seed treatment to obtain high germination rates. The variety then has to be trialled against its competitors (comparative trials), photographed, named, protected, marketed and sold. For new selections or vegetatively propagated varieties, one of the main limitations is the time taken to propagate a commercial quantity to enable their launch.

Often in order to remain competitive, on the books of their most loyal grower customers, it is necessary for breeders to create similar ‘me-too’ varieties so that the company catalogue presents as few gaps as possible in relation to the competition. In some cases these ‘me-too’ varieties are part of a genuine breeding program aimed at other objectives.  This is the price to pay for innovation and it results in far too many varieties of similar characteristics and performance (e.g. Viola, Begonia, Impatiens, Petunia) and far too few of those new introductions that change the horticultural, garden and landscape scenery for good.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ.3  Given the very large numbers of new plant varieties introduced to the market each year, it is a reasonable question to ask on what merits each variety is introduced and promoted? 

  • If a new variety is described as a breeding breakthrough, for what reasons?
  • Is it a new selection (natural or induced mutant) of an existing variety?
  • Is it seed raised or vegetatively propagated?
  • Does the variety need to be grafted on a different rootstock?
  • Is it an F1 hybrid (usually sterile but with hybrid vigour)?
  • Is it the result of conventional breeding or genetic engineering?
  • Who was the plant breeder, seed company or ‘finder’ of the new variety?
  • Under what botanical name (Genus and species) should the variety be placed?
  • Is the variety protected with Plant Breeders’ Rights, Patent or Trademark?
  • To what extent does it stand out from existing varieties (of the same species)?
  • How does it rate in comparative variety trials?
  • What advantages does it confer to the specialist young plant grower?
  • What real advantages does it offer the plant and flower grower?
  • What real advantages and interest does it confer to the hobby grower and gardener?
  • What special appeal does it have for wholesalers and retailers?
  • How high does it score in the logistical chain (post-harvest quality and resistance to transport)?
  • How does it perform in terms of consumer appeal (indoor, gardens and patio, florist)?
  • What marketing possibilities does it offer? (uses, containers, mixtures, POS material)?
  • Can the readers name some other characteristics to look for?

Q.4 From what organizations and sources can we look for this type of information on new plant varieties?

See: www.fleuroselect.com  –  www.all-americaselections.org  –  www.ngb.org  –  www.myflowerfinder.com   www.newflowers.org  –  www.newplantsandflowers.com

The effects of marketing can overshadow the promotion of new varieties. A recent survey commissioned by the German Trade Magazine Taspo and undertaken by the AMI (Agricultural Market Information Company), showed that only 8% of the 300 German floricultural companies surveyed, considered new plant varieties and new sales concepts in their planning of production and marketing in 2012.  According to the report, planning was based on low prices and a difficult market in 2011 (down 22% and 19% respectively) and on efforts to reduce costs. www.newplantsandflowers.com This is not so surprising given the large number of varieties coming on stream every year and the perplexity or reluctance of retailers to try novelties when more traditional varieties have been selling well. It indicates that new varieties are being created and introduced at a faster rate than growers and growers and retailers can keep up with. This strongly supports the rationale behind the ‘window on plant novelties’ by Clamer Informa (now in 10 languages). See Part I, new varieties, better informed pdf  www.myflowerfinder.com

Q.5 Where has the choice gone for the individual consumer, subjected to the presumption that he/she will be overjoyed with new seasonal interpretations and fashionable trends decided by external agencies and marketing organizations? Are we not weakening or imprisoning the consumer in the process? Consumer networking on Internet might help.

External agencies monitor consumer trends in various sectors in order to arrive at their decisions. Other organizations and marketing agencies work from within the floriculture industry. The result is to ‘wind up’ the media that today has become the predominant force in promoting new varieties through a heady mixture of science, marketing and promotion. Yet there are diverse interests involved: plant breeder, seed company, seed producer, researcher, educator, propagator, grower, media, wholesaler, retailer, marketeer and the individual consumer.

If a new variety of Pelargonium is earlier flowering by 7 days with better basal branching, on the grower’s nursery this advantage can quite easily be neutralized by cultural practice or unseasonably warm weather!  Is the slight improvement or difference worth the huge promotional budgets required to push a new variety into the international limelight above the existing varieties. What seed companies can afford to do this?  Maybe only those still able to produce substantial genetic breakthroughs and those that have gone on a shopping spree to bring independent seed companies under their international organizational umbrellas, gradually encompassing the entire chain from breeding to retail. An economic disadvantage can becaused to retailers (especally florists) by newly created trends that oblige them to quite suddenly substitute their stock of accessories to be in tune with the new colour and other prescribed trends.

Today it is difficult to unravel the complex admixture of scientific fact, promotional slogans and seductive photography. Over the years, with the closing of many publicly financed research institutes, the figure of independent extension (information) scientist has been largely replaced by the seed companies themselves and consultants who are dependent on privately run companies.  As a result various excellent compediums and information services can be found but they are invariably addressed to all new varieties put forward by the breeders and promotional organizations with little independent selection pressure. The word NEW and NOVELTY wins every time!

Q.6  How can we give individual consumers more weight in respect of the potentially coercive power of the multimedia once it decides to get behind a new plant variety or market trend?  

Today there is a risk that the introduction of new varieties becomes increasingly detached from the reality of plant production and consumption, being replaced by the economic interests of breeders, plant trials, exhibitions, marketing and the media. A circle within a circle.

Q.7  Should the floriculture industry not introduce a list of plant varieties that have retrospectively had a really significant impact on the floricultural and gardening industry over the last few years? 

Edward Bent ©2012 | HORTCOM

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