Tholen – Of the ‘big’ greenhouse vegetables, eggplant is the least known, certainly in northwestern Europe. For growers, the traditional purple eggplant is a ‘commodity’, just like the vine tomato, long cucumber or block pepper. The situation is slightly different for large breeding companies. Not all established names have a high-tech breeding program aimed at eggplant.
Raiswan does. Reason enough to visit the head office in De Lier to hear how the market is doing and what’s happening in terms of diversified developments. There are three places in Rizewan where brinjal is cultivated. In addition to De Lier, where the breeding company is expanding rapidly, there are also locations in Spain and Turkey. All three locations have their own breeder and their own focus area. Logically, high-tech greenhouses are cultivated in northwestern Europe, in the Netherlands.
“Here the focus is on Oval Black,” says breeder Joep van den Anden in this story, first published in the trade journal Primeur. This is jargon for the ‘ordinary’ purple eggplant that can be found on the supermarket shelf or near the greengrocer. By far the largest part of the Dutch area, CBS counts 132 hectares, which have been set up for commodity variety cultivation. “I estimate more than 95 percent,” says Albert van Os, who works closely with Joep as a crop specialist for eggplant and tomato.
In addition to the most well-known species, other species have been added over the years, so-called specialties. The purple and white Graffiti eggplants are the most famous of these. All this can be very diverse. “Round, oval, narrow or purple, white and green in color,” Joep said. The latter occurs, for example, in China. “However, it is not yet interesting to European consumers.”
In supermarkets you mainly come across the oval black version with the addition of a specialty or Turkish eggplant from time to time, which is also known in some regions. It is also grown in Dutch greenhouses. “However, I have the impression that cultivation is declining now that as a result of the old glass treatments less suitable greenhouses remain for this cultivation.”
Traditionally, there are greenhouses where Turkish eggplants, for example, are grown. That’s why Raizwan mainly does this breeding work in Turkey. “There, what we call the tall cylindrical, is a focal point for our fellow breeders.” Turkish eggplants are 22 to 25 cm long, 5 to 6 cm in diameter and can be found ‘as far as China’.
promotion leads to growth
In recent years, eggplant is gaining fame and popularity. Thanks to promotional campaigns, more consumers are getting to know brinjal. Raiswan also provides recipes herself, which can be found on the ‘Love My Salad’ website for inspiration. There are about 70 (!) For eggplant.
“We see an increase in demand for eggplant,” says Albert. “Especially young consumers are getting to know eggplant, for example as a substitute for meat.” Brinjal can keep up with this trend. Since he started focusing on brinjal five years ago, there has been an uptick in demand. “It doesn’t go up in a straight line, but there’s always a little bit of growth.”
Farmers also appreciate this increase. Their primary focus is on quality and kilos. Rijk Zwaan provides them with the widely grown varieties Tracy RZ and Beyoncé RZ for this purpose. The rhetorical question is whether the consumer is even familiar with those varieties. most likely not. It’s hard to stand by eggplant. There are no real brands. The grower’s eggplant ends up in the proverbial pile before it ends up on the shelf. “I watch which variety I buy and from which grower,” smiles Joep. “Then for me it’s, ‘Hey, Beyonce is RZ or Tracy is RZ. Call it professional distortion.
This winter they also see on the shelves CleanLeaf®, a new concept from Rijk Zwaan that will be introduced in Spain in the winter of 2020-2021. Eggplant within the concept does not have hairy leaves and stems. Albert: “Making it more enjoyable, especially for the people who cut the eggplant.”
Here again the question is whether the consumer will notice. Jopp doesn’t really think. Of course he did it himself. “I immediately sent a picture to colleagues in Spain.” This variety has not yet been introduced in the Netherlands. “We are working on it.” He gives another example of external change. “Compared to five to ten years ago, the sepals of our brinjals are slightly shorter. This was also the case around the turn of the century. If you keep an eye on them, you can see such small changes. However, purple is purple, right? “Yes, although one variety is sometimes a little lighter than the other. Consistency is especially important to us.”
acting on current affairs
The introduction of a new variety occurs only when breeders are able to add new properties to varieties without sacrificing other properties. Albert: “A grower will not plant a new variety if, for example, it turns out that the leaves are no longer hairy, but the production is now less than the variety. In breeding, we always look for added value to the grower.”
Developments such as lighting or automation are being viewed in a similar way. In both cases Rhyzwan, which is also in brinjal breeding, is under consideration, but for which it is not yet really established in cultivation. “It is still very early on for specific breeding on cultivars for light in eggplant,” Joep says. “If I were asked to develop a variety for lighting, I would have a lot of questions. For example, is it related to cultivation under HPS or LED. There are too many factors still uncertain. Breeding will have further to look forward to, so we will continue to monitor developments closely.
Rijk Zwaan has a clear vision of what the brinjal should yield and meanwhile also listens to the growers’ questions and needs. A development that is even more timely and which Rijk Zwaan has been paying special attention to over the years is energy consumption. “The varieties we offer should score well on how much labor they require and how much energy they require to farm,” says the breeder. “Twenty years ago growers could still hunt with Stokes. Even then we didn’t do that in the cultivation of our selections. We deliberately choose moderate temperatures. will also do well in the grower’s heated greenhouse. And further down the chain, but this may be self-evident after the above story. No new introduction without improved shelf life, uniformity, quality and production.
This article was first published in issue 4 of the 37th edition of Primeur. For this see www.agfprimeur.nl.