Dec 16, 2011
Enza’s new bell pepper, Eazyleaf varieties hold promise for farmers

The biggest challenge processors and growers face when it comes to growing bell peppers and other row crops, like lettuce, is producing high-yielding plants with long shelf life and uniform size.

One of the company’s new bell peppers, which have not been officially named yet, is ideal for the open field and has four predominant lobes with dark green, 3.5- to 4-inch diameter fruits.

Eduardo Villanueva-Mosqueda, senior breeder of peppers at Enza, said one of the main advantages of the new pepper variety is that it has resistance to bacteria leaf spot and tobacco mosaic virus.

“We’ve also been able to do a lot to improve quality, color and yield with this variety,” Mosqueda said.

One of the main challenges in growing bell peppers, according to Freek Knol, Enza’s national sales manager for the United States and Canada, is that in the beginning of the season when the weather is cool, the bell peppers have large sizes, which are preferable to consumers and bring in more money for farmers. But as the season grows warmer, the sizes go down, since the plants don’t have enough energy to produce big sizes. But the company’s new block-type pepper, Alaska, appears to retain uniform sizes throughout the season.

“Generally, we’ll try to pick varieties as big as possible, so that later in the summer, consumers will accept them,” Knol said.

With the Alaska, Enza can start leveling out size fluctuations. The Alaska starts and finishes with an XL size and maintains its quality throughout the seasons.

“The first year, we did some small testings with this variety,” Knol said. “The second year, we did testing on a larger scale and we can see that the result is going to be many more thousands of dollars per acre for the growers who plant them.”

When it comes to lettuce, challenges for processors include chopping and processing the leaves once they receive the heads from growers.

That’s different now, with the new EaZyleaf lettuce varieties at Enza Zaden, a seed production company. At a recent Enza meeting in San Juan Bautista, Calif., growers, processors and seed company representatives had the opportunity to look at the new EaZyleaf varieties, as well as other conventional and organic vegetable varieties the company has come out with.

The big advantage with EaZyleaf is that it is grown as a full head of lettuce that harvests very easily.

“When you cut it, the leaves just fall apart, and they’re all about the same size,” said Ronald Welten, Enza’s breeding station manager for North America.
This means much less processing for the bagged lettuce companies.

“They’re full grown heads of lettuce, so their shelf life is really good,” Welten said. “The other big advantage is that the area where you cut the leaves is so small that there’s no pinking, browning or oxidation, so it stays fresh,” Welten said.

EaZyleaf, Welten claims, stays fresher longer than other packaged lettuces, since the processors don’t have to do any extra chopping.

“Normally, in the packinghouses the moment they start cutting the lettuce, it starts oxidizing,” Welten said.

As a result, normal packaged lettuces generally have a shelf life of between seven to 10 days.

“With the EaZyleaf, we’re talking about a 15-day shelf life and maybe even longer,” Welten said.

The fact that the EaZyleaf grows more upright than other lettuce also makes it easier to harvest mechanically, because it takes less time.

“Since it stands upright, it’s easy to cut with a knife. You also get more volume because there are fewer leaves lying on the ground. The leaves also aerate better during irrigations, which prevents the plants from getting botrytis and other soil-borne diseases,” Welten said.

The EaZyleaf comes in several varieties, including the Tango Green with green spiky leaves, Lolla Rosa with dark, shiny, red leaves, and a Butterhead Green with lighter green, uniform butter leaves.

“The good thing about these varieties is you basically plant them, mow them, wash them and put them in a bag,” Welten said. “The processing companies get the loose leaves and they can just mix them the way they like with all different shapes, colors, sizes and textures.”

Growers who normally harvest baby lettuces 4 to 5 inches tall get a significant amount of their deliveries rejected at the packinghouse because of pinking and oxidation. Because the EaZyleaf varieties are grown to full size, and come to the packers already in uniform leaf sizes, there are fewer rejections.

“The full-grown heads are stronger than the baby lettuces and have a lot more shelf life,” Welten said.

Enza doesn’t have any conclusive proof yet, but believes that more ascorbic acid in the EaZyleaf varieties may also help prevent oxidation and lead to longer shelf life.

By Lisa Lieberman, Western Correspondent

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