When Vitalis Organic Seeds entered the organic produce market in 1994, the company began its journey to global leadership in organic seed production and breeding programs dedicated to organic agriculture systems. Today the company produces more than 150 certified organic and regionally adapted varieties of vegetables and culinary herbs for the North American market.
Jean Francois Thomin (center), marketing manager Enza Zaden, with Ricardo and Theo Crisantes, Owners Wholesum
To mark its 25th anniversary, Vitalis hosted a celebration in San Juan Bautista on August 14th and 15th, with more than 200 growers, shippers, dealers, breeders and certifiers in attendance.
The celebration began with a welcome from Erica Renaud, manager of Vitalis North America. Renaud spoke about the origins of Vitalis in The Netherlands, and how founder and breeder Jan Velema invited her to bring the brand to North America 12 years ago, requiring that Vitalis staff be dedicated to organic seed systems.
Jeff Ramirez, Antonio Valdez, Daniel Gerardo, Enza Zaden – Vitalis Sales Team Yuma
Renaud also highlighted the expertise of each Vitalis regional team member and how product development brings new organic varieties to the market. How Vitalis screens and identifies genetics for North America provided an excellent segue to a presentation by Dr. Bill Tracy, endowed chair of organic plant breeding at University of Wisconsin. Tracey provided historical context on plant breeding, and the importance of understanding organic systems and how these components work together. Tracy further emphasized that when selection pressure is applied, genetics adapt, thus breeding in an organic environment for optimized genetics is key to developing varieties for organic agriculture. The ensuing discussion was particularly relevant as Vitalis firmly advocates for building organic production systems with organically produced seed.
Paula Linton, Greenleaf, Jessy Beckett Parr, CCOF Foundation and Shaina Bronstein, Vitalis Sales Representative
“At Vitalis, our organic seed is a natural complement to organic production techniques that work with biological systems such as crop rotation, intercropping, organic fertilization, natural pest control and mechanical cultivation for weed control. Conventionally produced seed, based on subjection to chemically based inputs, cannot be used to accomplish the goals of organic agriculture,” said Renaud.
New Vitalis Uchiki Kuri Winter Squash Breeding Material
The anniversary field day that followed included a tomato tasting tent of Vitalis’ upcoming heirloom tomato program, an onion breeding display explaining the onion breeding process specifically for organic agriculture, and a potted herb showcase of the full assortment of herb varieties available to culinary herb growers. Other product highlights included:
- Eggplant – gorgeous striped Annina ideal for both high tunnel and open field systems
- Endive – multiple adapted varieties, for more growers to get in on “endive as the new kale”
- Lettuces - romaine, butterhead, greenleaf, little gem, cosberg, mini romaine, oakleaf, babyleaf and finally Eazyleaf, Vitalis’ standard-setting one-cuts, with strong resistance to downy mildew, aphids, lettuce mosaic virus and lettuce die-back
- Pepper, a new dark green blocky bell for 2020, adapted for the West Coast, with well-distributed fruit and strong leaf canopy
- Squash, industry standards Desert, Green Machine and Dunja zucchini; Marzio Romanesco, a beauty that’s harvested with the yellow flower blossom; and Mexicana Gray a prolific summer squash also defined as Middle Eastern or Lebanese types
- Heritage tomatoes, bred in Italy and tested extensively in North America, this collection features better disease resistance, plant vigor, yield and fruit quality, with premium flavor, texture, and diverse colors and shapes
- Herbs, adapted for open-field and pot production including Basil varieties Eleanora and Emma, featuring intermediate resistance to downy mildew, and Elidia, with resistance to Fusarium wilt, and flat-leaf parsley Peione with downy mildew resistance
With great depth of breeding experience, the broadest certified organic assortment, proven capacity to breed for desired traits, new programs on the horizon, and a uniquely holistic approach to the organic market, Vitalis at 25 is well set up for the next chapter.