Enza Zaden showcases lettuce, vegetable varietiesSAN JUAN BAUTISTA, Calif. — California growers braved rain-soaked fields to preview more than 200 vegetable commodities at the Enza Zaden Variety Showcase in San Juan Bautista.

About 150 growers came out Oct. 6 to size up seeds and varieties they might trial or use in the next Salinas Valley deal, or even in Arizona this winter.

Enza Zaden Research USA breeds lettuces, peppers and onions at its San Juan Bautista facility. Vitalis Organic Seeds, a division of Enkhuizen, the Netherlands-based Enza Zaden, offers organic options.

One growth segment for Enza Zaden is its Eazyleaf lettuce varieties, said Erica Renaud, business development manager for Vitalis Organic Seeds. Tango, lolla rosa and butterhead have been available commercially since Eazyleaf began two years ago. Lettuces still in development were on display in San Juan Bautista.

Enza Zaden has touted Eazyleaf for its compatibility with mechanical harvesting, as a means to reduce processing and extend shelf life.

“If you harvest it mechanically a little higher up, it cuts and falls apart into equally sized leaves beautiful for a blend,” Renaud said. “That was the intended concept. Eazyleaf means it easily falls apart and you promptly have a loose leaf without having to decore.”

While that was the idea, it’s not always the reality in growers’ practice.

“It’s being used for both whole head and baby leaf,” she said. “Customers are trialing it and coming up with their own types of products. They’ll pair the green leaf with the red leaf in a match as a mini-head, or they’re mechanically harvesting it. The leaf has more texture and flavor so there’s more yield. And they’re making that into a blend.”

Enza Zaden’s seed development reflects a growing industry interest in lettuce color contrasts. Red butter lettuce is an example.

“We’re getting a lot of response for pairings of red with green,” said Renaud. “We’re trying to offer red and green options in as many segments as possible, so we have the red and green butter that can be paired in a clamshell.”

Grower Phil Fok of Ecopia Farms in Campbell, Calif., came to check out the organic vegetables offered alongside the conventional.

“It’s a continuous struggle to find new varieties that meet the needs of organic,” Fok said. “That’s why you come to events like these.”

Enza Zaden also runs a breeding program in Myakka City, Fla., for tomatoes and peppers. It’s Mexico breeding efforts cover those plus cucumbers – and soon, perhaps other commodities.

“We noticed there’s an interest, especially in central Mexico, for onions, squash and iceberg lettuce,” said Ronald Welten, breeding station manager for Enza Zaden. “So we’re going to start up more activities in central Mexico soon.”

In best-case scenarios, Enza Zaden’s breeders said, development of commercial varieties takes five or six years for lettuce; seven years for peppers; and 12 years for onions.

Enza Zaden Research USA also plans to open a new LEED-certified office and laboratory building around Nov. 1 in San Juan Bautista.