Chrysanthemum breeding variety selection shift to production areas



The interaction between breeders and growers in major production areas can turn once redundant codes into gold. Redundant codes being all the individual plants assigned a number by a breeder in the initial stages of a breeding program, but which never actually achieve the final status of a commercial variety.

by Erik van Berkum

How often in the past have breeders chosen to throw away a coded plant during the selection phase because they were unsuitable for the domestic market? This number can rise into the thousands since, on an annual basis, of 2,000 plants produced and denoted by a breeding code, it is not unusual that only 5 to 10 coded plants ultimately achieve the status of a commercial variety. How often does a variety selected and tested locally fail to perform to the same potential under different climatic conditions? Are all growers around the world benefiting from the new selections and improved varieties? The internationalization of the cut flower industry does not allow breeders to ignore these questions. Coded plants not matching the demands of one region, for example, can be very suitable and profitable in other parts of the world. How can a breeder make sure selections categorized as waste are not gold to growers elsewhere?


The answers to these different questions have encouraged a higher level of breeder-grower interaction in recent years. As an example, the chrysanthemum breeding activities of Deliflor in the Netherlands have been extended to create a testing program in the most important chrysanthemum markets. Major production areas are Japan, Holland and Colombia while the worlds three major consumption markets are Europe, Japan and the United States. Commercial testing in Italy, Malaysia and Japan is complemented by the company’s own testing facilities in Medelli­n, Colombia. The latter location delivering varieties with a consumer preference in the United States and suited to the growing conditions in the Medelli­n climate.

Speed of improvement
Mother plants produced in El Carmen de Viboral, nearby Medellin, are used to source the disease free plant material for the growers; a major point of concern for the Colombian farms is that cuttings are not hygienic and can be full of diseases. A strict hygiene protocol is necessary; commercial varieties are tested twice a year for viroid and each selection has their own set of gloves, so that if one selection becomes contaminated the diseases will not be spread by the workers during the picking of the cuttings. The traditional supply of in vitro material from Holland has disadvantages of being slow and more difficult to handle compared to the locally grown cuttings. For these imported plants, over a year is required before it is in full production. Allowing for the time period required for the farm to propagate this material, the breeders will have made other new selections and improvements to existing varieties. This system can mean that the farms are more or less three years behind in the cultivation of the latest varieties, compared to growers that buy cuttings directly.

pick cuttings

The Dutch breeders make at least four visits a year to Colombia to see how the work is progressing and to remain familiar with the market. Trials undertaken close to the growers own farms does permit easy contact. The visits to the farms are a means of quick feedback about the performance of varieties. Any problems arising with a particular variety can be recognised and reacted to quickly. During these visits, there is also an opportunity to show and ask the grower’s opinion about potential new varieties. Advice is given to the growers if they specifically ask technical production questions, but otherwise this remains the responsibility of the many good technical engineers in the region.

A necessary boost
On a business level, the last three years have not been easy for the farms in Colombia. The quality of living has made enormous progress, but the appreciation of the peso with respect to the dollar is giving the farms some serious problems. The necessary investments are not commonly being made and instead of investing in new production methods and automation, many farms are forced to cut costs, with many negative aspects for the cut flower sector in general.

Flores sylvestres

Despite these developments, the future is very positive for the Colombian flower sector. America will keep on buying flowers and Colombia will keep on producing them. Air freight and labour costs will be the two biggest challenges to keep under control. Fortunately, the sea transport routes from Cartagena to Miami are relatively short, which offers many possibilities to save on transport costs. To save on labour costs, Colombian growers will have to invest in automation. In this respect, Colombian growers can learn a lot from the Dutch growers, but they will have to keep in mind the different circumstances in Colombia and search for practical solutions together.

From the online version of FloraCulture International July 2007 Page 34, 35

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Erik van Berkum

Erik is a Dutchman currently living in Osaka Japan.

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