THE challenge of breeding vegetable seeds for a modern world encompasses more than just high yields and good taste.
In fact, considering the vast scale of farming operations throughout the world, it becomes an immensely tricky problem to cater to both the big end of town and its eat-to-live counterpart.
As the head of global vegetable seeds and environmental science for Bayer Crop Science, Dr Jacqueline Applegate sees both ends of the spectrum, from large commercial crop producers through to subsistence farmers in developing nations.
Though they may face very different problems, there is a common thread between them.
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"I see growers are truly part of the communities in which they live. They take pride in what they do and the value they bring to society," she said.
Based in St Louis, Dr Applegate leads operations, strategic planning and product development for both of her key global business units.
Being across the needs of farmers from across the globe provides plenty of challenges for the enthusiastic agriculture advocate.
On both fronts though, who the end consumer will be helps determine what products should be explored and developed.
The Big Guys
COUNTRIES with well-established farming technology and major production systems must continually consider consumer needs and wants, according to Dr Applegate.
She said Bayer's research and organisational links show first-world consumers were interested in knowing where their food comes from, how it was grown and by whom.
"We do a lot of research of working with consumers to understand the consumer needs and what the consumer wants," Dr Applegate said.
"What you basically see today is that people want high quality, fresh produce. They would like longer shelf life."
We have worked throughout the years with various collaborative efforts in the areas of R&D.
Buyer requirements then influence which genes are expressed when it comes to vegetable breeding.
In developed nations, that may include country specific requirements, such as Germans wanting more savoury tomatoes than the Dutch.
Dr Applegate has been with Bayer since 1992, and has held leadership positions all over the world, including time in Australia as the company's senior representative.
She said the Australian and New Zealand markets were very much on the company's radar.
"We have worked throughout the years with various collaborative efforts in the areas of R&D," Dr Applegate said.
"We have R&D that runs specific for Australia.
"When we do develop our next genetic lines we always do that from a country specificity."
The Smaller Guys
WHEN it came to plant breeding, Dr Applegate said Bayer took into consideration the nutrition and health requirements for consumers, especially those in underdeveloped rural areas.
This was particularly important when it came to "smallholder" farmers in developing nations.
"A smallholder farm is normally feeding about 80 per cent of the population around them," Dr Applegate said.
"Our role is to effectively help the grower farmer in the end to deliver on the needs of the consumer."
It's about nutrition, it's about high yield, it's about being able to feed successfully the community around them.
Smallholders required tailored solutions to their individual situations, as opposed to simply trying to transfer techniques from larger, more modernised operations.
Dr Applegate said it was about providing seeds and solutions.
"It's about nutrition, it's about high yield, it's about being able to feed successfully the community around them," Dr Applegate said.
"We get a lot of information from the public health centres of the community and we as Bayer we have very strong connections with the WHO, the Global Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where we are working as a company, so we are getting insights also from these donor communities."
She said it was also important to consider exploring ways that surplus produce could be sold from within these communities.
- Ashley Walmsley was a guest of Bayer at the Future of Farming dialogue in Germany.