Solution to rising labour costs could lay in seed genetics

Wednesday 8th August 2018

Labour availability and the cost of labour to the horticultural industry was identified as one of the key issues confronting growers, at the Hort Connections conference and tradeshow, held in Brisbane, Queensland in June 2018.

St. Louis, U.S. based Global Recommendations and Support Lead, Kevin Walsh was invited as a guest of AusVeg to share how the company is working to help growers to mitigate this pressing issue, with new technologies and improvements in seed genetics.

“The way we’re working as a breeding organisation is we’re looking for that added value,” says Kevin. “We are looking at the role genetic selection plays in varieties that are easy to harvest, easier to grow and general broad adaptability. These factors can all contribute to reducing labour challenges.”

Photo credit: AusVeg

Photo credit: AusVeg

Seminis is committed to bringing grower value back to the agricultural industry by thinking outside of the box and providing crops and varieties that help growers manage concerns like labour costs.  Two of the main varieties Kevin spoke about were high rise broccoli and curdivex cauliflower. These two concepts allow growers to achieve cost savings and gain productivity at harvest.  

High rise broccoli is generally extremely uniform, with 90-95% of the population reaching maturity at the same time. Its uniformity allows for less time spent at harvest, with only one to two passes required. High rise varieties are very adaptable to temperature changes throughout its cycle.

In the field, curdivex cauliflowers grow in a uniform way that exposes the floret for harvest. The advantage to this variety is that it’s easy to see by the harvester and it only requires one or two passes, ultimately reducing grower labour costs.

Varieties that can withstand the logistical challenges of Australian production is also a focus for Kevin.

“When you’re growing a variety in Melbourne and you’ve got to ship it to Darwin, that’s a huge operation logistically,” he says. “When you’ve got varieties that can handle that logistical process, it not only helps with shelf life but allows growers to grow in one region and know they’ve got the reliability to ship to other regions.” 

“This is another issue front of mind for us when we consider what varieties would do well here, and that reliability piece is critical,” Kevin said.

Of course, solutions also lay beyond the seed.

“There is a great deal of innovation occurring in the industry, whether it is robotics, AI or vertical farming, all of which have the potential to contribute to better outcomes for growers. I’m very excited about some of the areas Seminis is working in that will give growers more confidence, we’re in their corner when thinking about some of their biggest challenges,” Kevin said.