, Volume 163, Issue 3, pp 511-522,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 22 May 2008

Can conventional breeding programmes provide onion varieties that are suitable for organic farming in the Netherlands?

Abstract

Main stream commercial onion breeders do not select varieties for organic farming, but solely for conventional farming. Seed companies consider the organic market too small to justify investments in breeding for this sector. In order to study if their varieties also suit organic farmers’ needs we interviewed four Dutch commercial onion breeders on their breeding programme and selection criteria and compared the outcome with a variety profile composed of the priority traits of Dutch organic farmers. Breeders gave priority to the same storage and bulb quality traits that are demanded by organic farmers, because organic onions are exported to conventional supermarkets that apply the same quality standards to organic and conventional onions. However, organic farmers also need varieties that perform well in the field. Breeders give low priority to field selection. Furthermore, three of the four seed companies only breed hybrids. The cytoplasmic male sterility system used to produce these hybrids does not comply with organic principles. We conclude that at present breeders can provide varieties that meet organic farmers’ demands for storability and quality traits, but they should give higher priority to field selection to also improve required field traits. The latter will only occur, if in future the organic seed market will grow. If the organic sector wants varieties developed according to its own principles, it should either set up its own onion breeding programme or seek alliances with breeding companies that are prepared to harmonize their breeding methodology with the organic principles.