Rijk Zwaan USA Inc. continues to develop the Salanova lettuce seed line brought to market through limited partnerships with shippers like Mann Packing Co. and Fresh Express.
“The breeding goes on and there are a lot of new types and uses,” said Rick Falconer, managing director for Salinas, Calif.-based Rijk Zwaan USA. “Using the Salanova for bagged salads instead of the baby leaf types has had success.”
Like spinach and other baby leaf items, Salanova can be densely planted and mechanically harvested. A single cut separates its leaves, eliminating cutting at the processor.
“It’s all about the process of cutting the core out,” Falconer said. “You get this big waterfall of leaves that comes off the head. They’re bite size and you’re getting over 150 leaves versus maybe 20 or 30 per head.”
“It’s not quite a 30-day baby leaf, but 50 to 60 days,” he said. “You get good yields though and better shelf life. The flavor complexities have had a chance to develop in an older lettuce plant.”
Mann Packing’s Scarlett Butter lettuce head, introduced last year, and Arcadian Harvest Ruby salad blend both use Salanova red butter. Mann’s HoneyGem was also done in partnership with Rijk Zwaan.
Fresh Express is supplied Salanova lettuces by contract growers.
Rijk Zwaan now offers multiple varieties under the brand in both red and green, including Salanova butter; batavia; oakleaf; lollo; and crispy. Some are available in indoor varieties.
Romaine and iceberg are still the big deals in lettuce, but Rijk Zwaan has been hearing more often from grower-shippers seeking something unique.
“There seems to be a lot of demand, or interest at least, in what’s new,” Falconer said. “But even with these, the breeders are working on iceberg crossed with romaine types. You’re seeing romaines with a little more iceberg texture and flavor.”
The company has recently developed open head, or open heart, romaine for processing and for fillet leaves. It has a solid midrib that adds weight and enhances shelf life by minimizing discoloration. Romaines where hollow ribs can occur are associated with reduced shelf life, he said.
“That’s a new area,” Falconer said. “We’ve worked more with the heady type of romaine lettuces, but with open heads you can cut and layer the whole leaves. We’re commercial now with a few of those.”
Rijk Zwaan USA’s other big crop is spinach. Last year the company introduced seven new varieties, each with downy mildew resistance features.
“It was a very difficult year in Yuma for downy mildew,” he said. “That’s a challenge for seed companies. That organism changes so quickly, but the breeding wheel moves much slower. To be able to stay ahead of the game is real important. So far those varieties are holding up and doing well in the (California) coastal valleys too.”
The company has no worries that demand for spinach and lettuce varieties will run out anytime soon.
“Because of the advance of diversity in breeding, it seems like the grower-shippers are all keen to come to our trials,” he said. “That really helps. It gets close to tailor breeding when grower-shippers come to us and say, ‘That’s a pretty head, but we need it to come off the ground a bit higher so that our cutters can get underneath.’ Little things like that can save our breeders years of development time.”