Watermelon breeder Greg Tolla explains the differences among watermelon varieties and offers samples.
Watermelon breeder Greg Tolla explains the differences among watermelon varieties and offers samples.

WOODLAND, Calif. — What happens in the field affects food quality and supply, so Monsanto vegetable seed representatives want to engage the entire value chain.

“It’s becoming pretty clear that if we can be a facilitator with retailers and growers and the seed companies — in this case, us — then we can come up with some pretty unique solutions,” said Chris Peterson, Monsanto strategic account management director. “As a seed company, we can help connect the dots that are there.”

He cited the X10R disease-resistance package that Monsanto has bred into peppers grown in the Southeast. The naturally-occurring genetic resistance helps growers manage bacterial leaf spot, which can weaken plants and reduce marketable yields by up to 50% under the worse scenarios.

“Retailers were saying, ‘We’re running short on peppers,’” Peterson said. “Now this keeps diseases away and that will lead to more stable supplies of peppers. That was one of the easy dots to connect.”

His comments came during field tours adjacent to the company’s world vegetable research and development headquarters, Aug. 13.

Increasingly, Peterson said, retailers are focusing on vegetable breeding efforts and specific varieties.

“It’s interesting the level of interest that some of these retailers have,” he said. “They come, see what we’re doing and learn, and ask questions.”

Among the new varieties showcased was SV0258WA, a striped seedless watermelon that does well in the West and in Mexico, said watermelon breeder Greg Tolla. It also meets the larger sizes that some retailers are demanding.

“They’re coming back to the 36s because some of the major chains were asking for a smaller size, but they’ve backed off of that now,” he said.

Not too long ago, retailers preferred 45-60-count watermelons.

Another is SV0051WA, an extended quality watermelon with drier, firmer flesh and less leakage designed for fresh-cut and processing. It is widely adaptable to growing conditions in both the East and West.

If conventional watermelon is used for fresh cut, it typically won’t last more than five days, Tolla said.

“Retailers are demanding that the suppliers go to melons like this,” he said. “There’s reduced leakage and you probably get 60%-80% more shelflife than the five-day shelflife. The push is coming from food service and the retailers that want the longer shelflife.”

Holdability also is a trait of SV6239MF, a long shelf-life Harper-type melon designed for the Central American winter slot as well as for California, said melon breeder Jeff Mills.

In field trials conducted across several regions, this new variety averaged 1.5-2 degrees brix higher than the competitor’s leading variety, he said. Depending on the time of year and growing conditions, SV6239MF produces fruit ranging from 9s to 15s.

The variety’s field-holding capacity allows growers to leave fruit on the vine longer to accumulate higher sugars, a challenge under the tough Central American growing conditions, Mills said.

“For the consumer, they’ll get higher brix than the western shippers that used to come out of Central America because that market has changed,” he said. “This one has less aroma, but at least you’re not getting a load rejected because it didn’t meet minimum brix. It’s definitely a trade off.”

Mills said one of his goals is to incorporate more aroma into longer shelflife varieties.