In Their Words: Erica Renaud, Ph.D.
OPN recently spoke with Erica Renaud, Ph.D., Regional Business Manager, North America at Vitalis Organic Seeds. Vitalis produces nearly 500 certified organic varieties distributed in over 35 countries, ensuring regional adaptation of premium genetics through 12 local research stations around the world.
OPN Connect: Vitalis Organic Seeds is now 23 years old, serving the global organic community. Tell our readers how you serve the organic specialty crop growers in North America.
Vitalis Organic Seeds, the organic division of Enza Zaden, breeds and produces seed varieties specifically for the organic market. Since entering the North American market in 2007. As a pioneer in organic breeding, Vitalis is committed to a closed-loop organic agriculture system that starts with the highest quality organic seed, free of contaminants and adapted to the needs of diverse agro-ecological climatic conditions. We now offer more than 150 certified organic varieties in over 15 crop groups.
OPN Connect: How do your seeds work to resist disease, efficiently mineralize nutrients and achieve outstanding flavor, appearance and viability?
Organic farmers have fewer options to intervene in the short-term when weather or soil conditions are not favorable for optimal crop growth. Vitalis prioritizes the trait requirements of organic growing systems in our breeding programs and considers the unique needs of organic growers when making our varietal selections.
Some desired traits in organic management are shared with conventional producers, such as drought tolerance, insect and disease resistance and high yield. Other cultivar characteristics that are more important to organic producers include vigorous early growth, waxy leaves, ability to perform in soils with potentially low or fluctuating nutrient mineralization rates, and weed competitiveness
At Enza Zaden, there is a team specifically focused on evaluating flavor profiles and post-harvest traits. By utilizing taste panels, phytochemical analysis testing and evaluating post-harvest handling and processing methods, we can more accurately predict how a new variety will be perceived by the consumer and stand-up on the shelf. This multi-faceted information allows us to draw correlations among agronomic traits, consumer flavor preferences, color, phytochemical content and post-harvest capacity to select the most flavorful and shelf-life worthy cultivars in our breeding programs.
OPN Connect: How are your seeds regionally adapted for diverse agro-ecological climatic conditions?
As a breeding company, we are constantly looking at the interaction of a variety’s genetics with the environment in which it is grown. For example, the same variety may perform very differently depending on whether or not it is being fed quick-release mineral nitrogen, or slow release organic nitrogen through a source such as compost. On organic farms, the sources of fertility, weed management and crop rotations tend to be much more diverse compared to conventional farms.
For this reason, the environmental effect on a variety’s performance can be greater, with higher variability between two organic farms than is typically seen between two conventional farms. Because of this effect, Vitalis uses multiple screening locations for its selection environments.
OPN Connect: Tell us how you avoid transgenic modification and new genetic breeding techniques that violate the integrity of plant cells or limit the capacity for natural perpetuation of crop species.
Breeding methods have evolved rapidly in recent years to service an expanding seed market. The organic sector has argued that several techniques used in conventional breeding programs do not comply with the principles of organic agriculture. Organic agriculture has philosophically and legally rejected the technology of genetic modification (GM), where GM organisms are defined as organisms in which the genetic material has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination. Neither Vitalis, nor our parent company Enza Zaden, utilizes any breeding techniques that result in transgenic modification (GMOs). In addition, we strongly oppose the use of genetic use restriction technologies which limit the ability of a variety or organism to reproduce naturally.
All of the new breeding techniques which have been listed as excluded methods for organic production by the NOSB are technologies that are not used in the development of any Vitalis varieties. As this field of science and technology continues to rapidly grow and evolve, Vitalis will maintain its critical role in this discussion in order to ensure the integrity of organic seed.
OPN Connect: Tell us about your annual Student Organic Seed Symposium (SOSS). What are other ways you participate in the organic community?
For the sixth year in a row, Vitalis has been a proud sponsor and presenter at the Student Organic Seed Symposium (SOSS). SOSS is an event developed by and for graduate students involved in organic seed system research. Each year the students identify a theme, an associated research institution to host the event, and select speakers who are dedicated to research in breeding for organic agriculture, seed production and/or technologies and alternative seed systems design. This year, SOSS participants toured the Enza Zaden Research Station in San Juan Bautista as well as our operational headquarters and seed warehouse in Salinas.
Field days provide a wonderful opportunity to showcase the newest varieties from the Vitalis assortment. This year, Vitalis hosted field days at our San Juan Bautista Research Station in California, our Myakka Research Station in Florida, our Culiacan Research Station in Sinaloa, Mexico and at the Seneca Vegetable Research Station in New York. Vitalis is proud to manage certified organic land at each of our research stations in North America. Our certified organic Research Station plots are used for variety trialing, breeding, selection and demonstration for our internal and external customers to learn about organic production techniques, and to experience the performance of our varieties when grown under organic management conditions.
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