Progeny is developing a line of varieties in Spain and is already successfully marketing them in the USA.
The lettuce sector is undergoing a process of change worldwide. The need to minimise the chemical impact and reduce production costs as much as possible is resulting in the mechanisation of the processes and, to do this, a change in the concept of the materials is essential. In the USA, Progeny, (a plant breeder with 26 years of history with 33% of iceberg sales in California), is marketing a “worldwide new development” that is revolutionising the lettuce market. “We are the first company to have hybrids,” explains Pedro Alonso, Research and Development Manager for EMEA at Progeny. In North America, they are already marketing hybrid varieties exclusively with producers. “In the USA, they work in a different way, with direct sowing, more exclusive work and they also have patented genes (which is still not possible in Europe).”
The company has been working in Spain for four years now. Using classic improvements, they are working on two goals. On the one hand, the company is developing new materials and localising the crop calendar for the varieties that adapt to Mediterranean conditions, adapting the over 150 varieties that they have in the USA to the crop growing conditions in Spain. And another line of work involves developing the hybrid varieties, which “will really revolutionise the lettuce market.”
Regarding the latter, Alonso explains that they are “developing both the improvement lines and the seed production system. The idea is to produce seeds at a reasonable price that make them sustainable.” This brings many advantages with it: greater production (in North America, they are obtaining a minimum of between 20-30% more weight with hybrids compared to non-hybrid materials, and in Romaine lettuces the difference in weight is up to 60% in the hybrid materials), larger lettuces, with thicker leaf walls (useful for pre-prepared foods due to the consistency and crunchiness), greater endurance in the fields and more tolerances, along with greater uniformity and early harvesting. But above all, the development of mechanical harvesting is the most important development, since the format of the hybrids, with a higher stem and a larger number of leaves at the base, mean that the head is damaged less when the machinery is used. In short, advantages that will allow the total mechanisation of the process, from sowing to harvesting, which will involve the future of the sector.
At its Spanish research centre, in Cuevas de Almanzora, they already have hybrids in the fields, mainly of romaine and iceberg, but they are also testing other types that show potential. Their aim is to become a “service company” for both producers and other plant breeders.