Demand for healthy, sustainably produced food, including vegetables and fruit, is rising. Yet growers around the world face a number of challenges. Good agricultural land, water and raw materials are becoming ever scarcer. In many places, climate change is causing less stable growing conditions. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that up to 40% of the world's food crops are lost to disease and pests every year. For sustainable production and better harvest security, professional growers need crops that stay healthy in difficult circumstances. It all starts with strong varieties and strong seeds. Bejo has achieved many innovations in vegetable breeding and seed production and processing in the past couple of decades, and we see plenty of opportunities for more progress ahead.

Seed production 

Breeding companies like Bejo are constantly looking for ways to improve plant health properties. We’re making progress on new varieties with better resistance to drought and certain diseases and pests. (See the article “Exploring natural resistance in vegetable crops never stops”.) But even when growers have access to strong, disease-resistant varieties, seed quality can make a vast difference. Healthy crops start with healthy seed.The first major factor affecting quality is how seed is produced. Bejo has production sites in various parts of the world. So we can work under the best climate conditions to produce healthy, vigorous seed while limiting risks, such as adverse weather conditions and disease pressure. Our production sites follow strict protocols to ensure quality and plant health, with support from specialist crop consultants and scientists. 

Production research

Our seed production researchers look at environmental factors that affect seed quality. For example, we’re interested in epidemiology – the science of how diseases and infestations develop, and how they spread via seeds. Knowing your enemy puts you in a better position to fight it. Furthermore, we look at optimum planting distances for ensuring uniform, shorter flowering periods, leading to more uniform maturing and seed size. This, combined with optimum harvest times and methods, enables us to harvest uniform lots.

We have, for example, gained more understanding of the Xanthomonas bacteria’s infection route in plants and seeds. Innovative detection methods enable us to quickly discover the pathogen on site, even when no symptoms can be seen with the naked eye. This gives us more options for control in the production process. To produce high-quality seeds, we select parent lines that produce good pollen and do research to determine the ideal pollination period. We also conduct extensive research on how bees and other insects act as natural pollinators. (See the article “Bees and Bejo: natural partners in seed production”).

Seed technology for a superior product

After production, we thoroughly test, upgrade and further process all seeds at our Seed Technology Facility in Warmenhuizen, the Netherlands.

Seed analysis and health

Each lot of seeds undergoes an average of 25 tests. We look at characteristics such as purity, moisture content, number of uniform plants (for plant nurseries) and germination capacity. We also test for bacterial, viral and fungal infections known to be transmittable through seed. 

DNA analysis and multispectral imaging 

New technology affords us even more ways of improving seed processing. We now use DNA analysis to collect precise data on pathogens. We’re currently experimenting with novel ways of selecting the best seeds using X-ray technology and multispectral imaging. We have high hopes for artificial intelligence and machine learning, though these technologies are still in their early stages.

Seed cleaning and processing

Analyzing incoming seed lots enables us to determine which cleaning techniques and treatments will be needed. For example asparagus seeds are relatively large, while celery seeds are tiny. Beetroot seeds are naturally very dusty; brassica seeds are slick. Factors like these affect the way we process and treat seeds.  

Quality and resistance seem worlds apart by definition. The essence of our work is to bring them together. It calls for plenty of patience and dedication in the breeding process.

Theo van der Horst

Seed disinfection

Different seed treatments mean growers can count on good germination and healthy, uniform crops. Bejo uses a range of available treatments to increase the value of seed for growers. One is physical disinfection. We have invested in advanced methods, such as hot water and steam vacuum treatments, that allow us to guarantee our seeds are healthy. Harmful bacteria and fungi don’t stand a chance.Treatment varies by crop, sometimes even by variety, and depends on where the seed will be used.  Susceptibility to certain diseases differs by geographical region, and regulations around plant health also vary. In this area, too, technology is advancing. We keep a close eye on innovations that offer new ways of improving seed health. Plasma- and ozone disinfection, for example, show serious potential as environmentally friendly physical methods for the future.

Seed enhancement

To ensure crops benefit from a quick start and uniform growth, we use priming technology. Priming is an advanced technique in which a seed’s germination process is activated and then stopped. Years of research and development in our labs have led to B-Mox, a seed-enhancing formula that boosts the advantages of using primed seed. B-Mox strengthens plants at the initial stage, reducing growers’ risks in the vulnerable early growth phase and making plants more stress-resistant throughout the growing period. B-Mox is a sustainable option, and it’s ideal for organic farming. 

Coating  

Seed coating also brings growers added value. First, seeds with a uniform covering are easier for sowing machines to process, and they’re easier to see in the seedbed. We can also put additives in coating to protect vulnerable germinating plants against diseases and pests in the soil, helping to prevent problems such as damping off. Fungicide coating reduces the need for crop protection products in the field by up to 90%. And we also sell non-chemically treated coated seed, a highly sustainable solution.

We’re hard at work innovating in this area too. For instance, we’re looking into ways coatings can provide an alternative to chemical crop protection products. We’re investigating the use of new biological plant protection materials and growth promoters in coatings. In 2019, Bejo introduced a coating made entirely of natural materials that break down in the soil.

Today and in 50 years’ time

Bejo aims to help make food production more sustainable. In crop growing, that starts with seeds and varieties. We’re constantly searching for healthier ways of producing seeds and better ways of processing and treating them to obtain the best products. We employ innovations that add value for growers. Working with our partners in the chain, we strive to make production sustainable and increase harvest security. So professional growers can produce crops that deliver tasty, healthy vegetables – now and in 50 years’ time. 

- Exploring nature never stops -