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Vitalis Organic Seeds is working with Canadian growers to develop varieties that meet their needs.Supplied

Canadians may have noticed an increase in availability – both in volume and variety – of small organic tomatoes. The growing number of consumers reaching for tasty, bite-sized tomatoes, such as cherry, grape, medley and heirloom varieties, hasn’t gone unnoticed by Vitalis Organic Seeds, a trusted global supplier of certified organic vegetable and herb seed with a strong presence in Canada and across North America.

“We’ve seen a growing tendency of consumers opting for a diverse assortment of smaller tomatoes, and we work with organic growers to meet this market demand,” says Erica Renaud, regional marketing manager North America for Enza Zaden, of which Vitalis is a division. “This has led to a higher emphasis in breeding, selection and product development programs for specialty tomatoes.”

Such market trends are only one of the factors that inform seed breeding and production, where success depends on focusing on the most appropriate genetic material for a certain region and specific growing conditions. “Organic seeds come with additional requirements: they need to be free of contaminants and adapted to perform well under organic growing conditions,” says Ms. Renaud. “We do a lot of screening of our genetics with organic open field and greenhouse growers to identify the traits they need for their production systems and markets.”

A major difference between organic and conventional agriculture is the availability of management tools. Where conventional agriculture uses synthetic chemicals for pest control, disease management, fertility and so on, organic agriculture relies on symbiotic relationships between micro-organisms and organic matter, beneficial insects, climate and more.

That’s why Vitalis Organic Seeds are developed to perform well with biological systems, such as crop rotation, intercropping, organic fertilization, natural pest control and mechanical cultivation for weed control, says Ms. Renaud. “For organic seeds, we select for higher levels of nutrient efficiency, such as nitrogen uptake, for example, so the plants are more vigorous under organic management conditions.”

Producing nearly 500 certified organic varieties distributed in over 35 countries, the family-owned business headquartered in The Netherlands works to ensure regional adaptation of premium genetics through 12 local research stations around the world.

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Erica Renaud and Marcel van Diemen evaluating butternut squash breeding selections.Supplied

“We work with organic growers and producers to identify the best genetics for each market,” she says, adding that conventionally produced seed cannot fully accomplish the goals of organic agriculture, since the seeds may be subject to chemical-based inputs, including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, or may be developed with techniques not permitted in organic standards.

Organic has grown significantly over the past decade – and Ms. Renaud believes awareness and regulatory support can further strengthen the market. Canadian organic regulations mandate organic growers to use organic seeds when and where they are commercially available, a nuance that leaves it up to growers to search out organic seeds for the required varieties and the quantities.

“More clarity in the Canadian Organic Standards – how they’re interpreted and enforced – would support the regulatory requirement,” she notes. “It is also important that organic growers and certifiers in Canada are fully aware of what seed varieties are available and from where.”

In Europe, for example, a router database lists all available organic seeds – a valuable tool for the region’s seed suppliers, organic farmers and national authorities. Ms. Renaud believes “putting something like this in place would be an incredible move for organics in Canada.”

The organic market is rapidly evolving, and this momentum can lead to more certified organic farms and producers, more diversity of crops, and more organic choices available for consumers.

Vitalis is ready to play a role, says Ms. Renaud. “After all, organic food should start with organic seed, where the first input is aligned with the philosophy of intent and regulatory framework. Canadian organic growers depend on the availability of sufficient certified organic GMO-free seeds to make this a reality.”

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA). The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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