Easy Harvest iceberg lettuce conducive to both mechanical and hand harvest

About five years ago, Davie Brooks and Jon Nickerson with Greengo Seed started working on the development of iceberg lettuce that could be harvested mechanically, suitable for both processing as well as fresh markets. Their second goal was to breed for iceberg lettuce with a high Fusarium tolerance.

Processing and fresh
Five years later, “Easy Harvest” lettuce has come a long way and is patent pending. “Our Easy Harvest product has many benefits,” says Davie Brooks, Lettuce Breeder at Greengo Seed in Yuma, AZ. “First of all, we’ve been able to develop a lettuce variety that can be mechanically harvested and deliver heads that are suitable for the processing market as well as fresh. Up until now, the only product available for mechanical harvest is an iceberg lettuce that looks like a football and can only be used for processing. Globally, it’s the first of its kind.”

Easy Harvest iceberg lettuce.

Hand harvest
In addition to mechanical harvest, Easy Harvest iceberg lettuce is also very suitable for hand harvesting. The product sits up almost four times higher compared to a regular iceberg variety, making it a lot easier for hand harvesting. “There is more room to get the knife between the bed and plant, resulting in a smoother and faster cut,” said Brooks. Usually, there is about 2 cm. of room, but with this lettuce variety, there is about 6 or 7 cm. of space to work with.

Brooks goes on to share the third benefit of this concept, which is related to cleanliness. “Because there is a bigger distance between the ground and the plant, Easy Harvest lettuce keeps the harvesting knife out of the dirt. Cleanliness also refers to the lower leaves staying away from contact with the dirt and bottom rot not being able to reach up in the head. “While Easy Harvest lettuce is conducive to mechanical harvest, it’s also an easier product to work with for hand harvesting and better for the plant’s health.”

Left: Normal lettuce. Right: taller Easy Harvest lettuce.

Breeding for Fusarium tolerance was another goal. “Fusarium is a big concern, especially in the desert region of Yuma, as it can wipe out between 10 percent and 90 percent of a field,” Brooks shared. It used to be an issue at the beginning of the season, in November and December. “However, it’s a growing problem that now persists from season start to finish, basically from November through May,” he added. Greengo has been able to successfully incorporate Fusarium resistance in several of the company’s regular varieties as well as Easy Harvest.

Where is Easy Harvest grown? The company started out with one planting spot in Yuma, AZ, and has since expanded into California’s Salinas and Santa Maria valleys. A trial field in Salinas was planted just two weeks ago. “While we are furthest ahead in Yuma, we are doing large trials with different grower-shippers in California as well this year.” Seeds will be available for purchase by September of this year, and the first commercial crop will be harvested in 2024.

Harvesting equipment
Outside the United States, Greengo is working with partners in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and the UK. When commercially available, Easy Harvest will be harvested by hand at first. “We are a bit ahead of the curve,” commented Brooks. “It’s the first time this concept has come around, and we are waiting for someone to build a harvesting machine.”

For more information:
Davie Brooks
Greengo Seed
Tel.: (+1) 928-580-4222

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