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Small seeds, great expectations

Bayer’s vegetable seed business is offering over 1,200 varieties in 24 vegetable crops, supplying customers all around the globe under the brand name Nunhems. Since every market and every customer is different, the crop specialists are experts when it comes to addressing the needs of growers and food chain partners. In fact, their services go beyond simply supplying seeds.

It all starts with a small grain of seed. Carrots, melons, tomatoes, cucumbers – the quality of all vegetables depends in large parts on the quality of their seed. Hence, the vegetable produce chain does not begin with growers but with seed breeders like Bayer. “We are responsible for all worldwide vegetable seed activities,” explains Carin Stroeken, Produce Chain Manager for Europe, Middle East & Africa of the vegetable seeds business. “On the one hand, we offer a variety of seeds for different crops. At the same time, however, we are very specialized,” adds Stroeken. What this means, explains Francisco Solera in more detail. He is Crop Sales Manager at Bayer in Spain. “We have experts for each crop in our portfolio, and I’m in charge of the melon team. That means I’m responsible for our many international customers growing melons in different countries,” explains Solera. “Our customers are very specialized – and they expect the same from us.”

Bayer does not just deliver seeds – the company is involved in the entire vegetable produce chain, from planting through harvest to delivery and beyond. Their vegetable seed team works with growers all over the world, managing, organizing and monitoring crop techniques and procedures. “Whereas Paco – that’s what we call Francisco – mainly works with the growers, I’m working with traders and retailers,” says Stroeken. “Together we get the vegetables from the seed stage to the consumer.”

Connecting the food chain

Enabling smooth collaboration and transparency within the fresh food chain cannot be done single-handedly. “But what we can do is connect the people in the chain to one another,” says Stroeken. “A few weeks ago we invited everyone involved in the fresh food chain – including the category managers of the retailers – to our melon and watermelon demo fields in Murcia, Spain,” adds Solera. “They had a look at our solutions and the latest products from our breeding programs – and they had the chance to get to know each other.”

After all, both growers and retailers want to deliver a product that supermarkets can sell. “We advise our customers what kind of vegetables consumers in the respective countries prefer,” says Stroeken. In order to have an optimized fresh food chain, it is necessary to be engaged in all its aspects – even that of the end consumers. “For instance, we found that sales of Galia melons were decreasing in Germany, the UK and in the Nordic countries.” In fact, sales of Galia melons dropped because of instable quality in taste. “Buying a melon was like buying a lottery ticket,” adds Stroeken. “Sometimes you bought one and it was good. And the next time you buy one, it looks the same but it’s actually not good.”

A new melon is born
Bayer’s goal was to create a melon that always tastes like a melon. The result is the new Galkia melon. “The secret behind it is that the melon’s skin is its very own ripeness indicator, changing its color from green to yellow,” explains Solera. “And thus telling the farmer: I’m ready for harvest!” Whereas ordinary Galia melons usually have a shelf life of three days, the new Galkia melons have a shelf life of two weeks. But that is not the main reason for its success. “We understand that taste is the basis of everything – and that’s why Galkia is so successful,” says Stroeken.

The Galkia melon can be grown during the summer months – so far only in Spain. “The Galkia fields in Almeria, Murcia and La Mancha spread over 700 hectares,” says Solera. “So far our seeds have produced around 20,000 tons of Galkia melons.” While that sounds like a lot, it is not enough. “It turns out that our customers would love to have more. If there is one drawback concerning the Galkia melon, it is that until now we only grow it in Europe,” explains Stroeken. “That means it’s not available every time of the year. Supermarkets, however, want to sell it all year round. So we’re still working on a solution there.”

Eventually, farmers in other regions of the globe will grow Galkia melons as well, profiting from the specialization of melon expert Francisco Solera. Then it will be available all year long in supermarkets everywhere. And it all started with a small grain of seed.

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