“There is a generational change in lettuces”

Rijk Zwaan

Rijk Zwaan is emphasising the change over to a new variety generation with maximum resistances and the zero residue trend

Over the past two years, the continuous problems caused by diseases and pests such as Bremia have brought about a change in the lettuce universe. “There is a generational change and a trend towards growing materials that include maximum resistances to Bremia Bl:16-37EU to minimise the use of plant protection products or to use more low-impact ones, and even the demand for lettuces with zero residue is growing,” confirms José Luis Saiz, Account Manager at Rijk Zwaan.

“The producers are selecting varieties that give them more for less. They are looking for lettuces that make the most of the resources (less water and fertilisers) due to environmental factors, but also to save in production costs. It should not be forgotten that the price of some inputs such as fertilisers have tripled, and electricity has also shot up,” Saiz explains. At the other end of the chain, the supermarkets are demanding MRLs that are way below the legal limit.

Aware of this reality, the seed company has renewed its catalogue and it now has the entire range of lettuces with resistance to Bremia Bl:16-37EU, as well as to others such as Nasonovia, Lettuce Mosaic Virus (LMV) and even materials that are resistant to fusarium, another important problem for the crops.

All of them may be seen at their Winter Open Field Days, alongside concepts that were launched last year and that company continues to consolidate.

Mechanisation is on the rise

One of the most important trends, owing to the lack of labour force, specialisation and to the rise in wages is the mechanisation of the transplanting and harvesting, the implementation of which has already been started in large companies in Murcia and northern Spain. Rijk Zwaan offers varieties adapted to these types of crops through the Salanova Tean Leaf line for transplanting to high densities (30-40 x m2),which also incorporates the Knox property. This range also allows a response to another trend: whole leaves, which bring greater shelf life. “We managed to apply smaller cuts (just the petiole), with greater volume and three-dimensionality, obtaining more volume with the same weight in the confections. “Mechanisation is beginning for typologies such as Romaine, Little Gem or Mini Romaine lettuces, but icebergs are the varieties that are going to cause more difficulties due to their shape.”

Open Heart

In the Mini Romaine Open Heart line, the company already offers its complete range with Knox, resolving the shelf life problems of traditional Romaine lettuces. “It is giving very good results. It is popular due to its narrower leaves that can be eaten in one bite, with solid, smaller ribs. It has very good flavour, exceeding the traditional Romaine. And it can already be harvested mechanically; in fact, this is being done in Spain now.”

Knox for pieces

The abovementioned Knox property that slows down oxidation and lengthens lettuce shelf life has now been extended to whole pieces. The iceberg range from Rijk Zwaan incorporates this property, covering the entire cycle and at the same time, they continue introducing it into varieties of Little Gem, Romaine and Mini Romaine. “With Knox, the trunk cut remains white for longer, without oxidising, and the problems of oxidation in the breakages due to handling are avoided. Additionally, it generates fewer pink vein problems (e.g. after rainfall) , which is one of the main causes for commercial rejection.”

Snack Crunchy Cos

Very crunchy, juicy, with great flavour and a characteristic long shape. The ‘Snack Lettuce’ Snack Crunchy Cos lettuces by Rijk Zwaan are in between a Romaine and an Iceberg lettuce. “We are already working them on the Spanish market, after their international introduction. They have been significantly introduced mainly on the markets in the UK, Germany and Scandinavia.” Rijk Zwaan is working with a coordinated group of producing companies that market this speciality all over Europe.

The ‘spoon-shaped’ leaves of Snack Lettuce allow healthy proposals to be eaten without any other ‘supports’ as the leaf itself can be used as a support and it is edible. “It is a product that works very well due to its flavour and its use as a healthy snack, which continues to be a rising trend.”

Indoor crops using hydroponics

Hydroponics is on the increase, particularly in northern Spain, although there are already producers in Murcia who are using this indoor crop technique with live lettuces of the Salanova and Salatrio type in different textures, leaf shapes and colours. “They are sold with roots and they give consumers the feeling that they are harvesting them.” As a new development, this year they are adding the red crystal lettuce to the green one they launched last year, especially developed for greenhouse hydroponic growing.

Foodiverse, Primaflor or the Cantabrian company Lechugas Vivas are some of the firms that are opting for these soil-less crops. But top restaurants also use them in their kitchens and even produce them in their installations, and in some Spanish supermarkets small modules are beginning to be seen with live lettuces. “It is a market that was brought to a halt with the pandemic, but that now is expected to recover, because as they are grown in a closed environment, they seem safer.”


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