Plant Breeding Changes Through The Years

Steve Jones of Green Fuse Botanicals

As a plant breeder, Steve Jones has been around the block a few times. His career spans more than 20 years, during which time he established the Bodger Botanical program at Bodger Seeds. When Bodger dissolved, Jones purchased the program, renaming it Green Fuse Botanicals.

As CEO of Green Fuse, Jones collaborates with independent plant breeders from around the world to bring innovative plant varieties to the market. He introduced the well-known Salvia Cathedral series, Petunia Blanket series and Ipomoea ‘Sweet Georgia.’

Jones has seen many changes in how plants are developed during the course of his career, and he recently shared his thoughts with Greenhouse Grower.

GG: How has plant breeding changed during your career in the industry?

SJ: I have been working in plant breeding for more than 20 years. I see many, many changes large and small that would take far too long to talk about. There are four I find most interesting, however:

Clonal product and inter-species breeding. This has allowed for rapid, low-cost breeding by many independent breeders and the ability to achieve new colors and plant habits in a plethora of genera. Seed production was much more complicated. Much more breeding was required to get a trait to come true. When we were doing open-pollinated production of French marigolds, for example, we would go to F4 or F5 before we’d get what we would actually release. It could take four or five years. With clonal propagation, when the first generation pops up, you can say, “I want that one right there,” and take cuttings off of it. It makes the world flat with regards to breeding.

Increased grower efficiencies. Growers are using seeds and cuttings much more efficiently. Shrink is smaller, the demand for quality inputs from suppliers is more disciplined and costs have dropped.

Rapid dissemination of information. It used to be that a breeding company had a few years after a new introduction to build a following. Now sales information is analyzed pretty quickly, with competitors bringing on comparable varieties within two to three years.

Tightening of government regulations and plant import restrictions. Many developing countries are very protective of their native flora as a resource for gene mining. Plant import restrictions are making it nearly impossible for breeders in Australia and New Zealand to import new breeding material. For the past five years there has been a similar trend in Europe and Japan. Although the United States is still a fairly easy place to import plants, the bias is for more restrictions, not less.

One thing that hasn’t changed much is the comity within the industry — even with competitors.

GG: Is it more important for breeders to focus on traits that make production easier for growers or on traits that attract consumers?

SJ: Growers are the “eyes” of the gardening public. If a grower fancies a plant, it will reach the consumer. I think it will always be human nature to go for the flash over the function. If a grower can supply flash and figure out how to grow it, that gives them an advantage. If I must make a choice, the easiest sale is the most beautiful plant, but no grower will buy a problem plant twice.

GG: Some say there are less ground-breaking introductions in recent years as breeders fill gaps in their existing series. Are we missing opportunities?

SJ: I sure don’t see less ground-breaking; I see the opposite. Staple crops, like calibrachoa and verbena, have gone from problem crops to reliable plants that are easy to grow.

For example, in the last four years there’s been a huge sea change in terms of the ease of growing calibrachoa. It used to be a problem crop. That really came about because of intense breeding efforts. So when people say there’s nothing new, I think they’re really missing the point. We may see a light introduction year from time to time, but the trend is that there are many more amazing new genera coming to market.

GG: Annuals have always been the bread and butter for breeders. Should breeders be focusing on other areas or should they focus on what we know works?

SJ: I think the lines between annual, houseplant, perennial, etc. are blurring. What’s a red leaf banana tree? An annual? Well, sort of. Breeders are focused on two things: existing major classes and something really different that can be profitable — at least until it is copied.

GG: How good is this industry at marketing to consumers? How has this changed over the years, and what can breeders and growers do better?

SJ: If I want to buy a loaf of bread, I can walk in the supermarket and find that brand with relative ease, week after week, month after month. To find the same plant that did so well for me last month or last year for the gardening public, however, is nearly impossible. And I don’t see that changing in the next few years.

Our best marketing remains well-grown plants in attractive containers. Perhaps in the future, with information becoming cheaper and search costs dropping, consumers can be more vocal about their preferences at a time when our industry can make it easier for our customers to find what they are looking for.

GG: What are some of the ways the industry can help consumers succeed so they will continue to be gardeners?

SJ: Easier access to plant culture. Easier access to solutions to gardening problems. Plants that better reflect our customers’ changing lifestyles. For instance, there will certainly be more phone access at retail, where people can scan a tag and get that plant’s cultural information. We’re working toward that right now. That will be a big breakthrough for growers to pass on to their customers.

Leave a Reply

More From Grow Initiative...
Hendriks-Half-Open-Roof_GGS

March 26, 2015

10 Greenhouse Products For First-Rate Growing Environments

From coverings to fork-lifts, greenhouse suppliers offer a variety of products to make growing easier. Check out the slideshow to learn more about these, plus several other products that can offer you value, versatility and durability.

Read More
Rose rosette on Knockout rose, April 2012. Photo credit: Alan Windham, University of Tennessee

March 25, 2015

$58 Million In APHIS Farm Bill Funding Will Support Horticulture Priorities

Nearly $58 million as been allocated by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to support the industry's Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program, under Farm Bill Section 10007. The program will support mitigation efforts for specialty crops, including providing research and other funding to address plant pest and disease priorities for the specialty crop industry, including floriculture and nursery crops.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadlines Approaching

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More
Latest Stories
Bloomtown_Screen Shot 2015-03-10

March 24, 2015

Bloomtown Exposes Consumers To The World Of Horticultur…

A new web series called Bloomtown is all about the mud, sweat and tears of horticulture. Filmed in St. Louis, Mo., it chronicles the world of horticulture using local flower growers, greenhouses, wholesalers, florists, consumers, retail shops and arborists, with the goal of opening consumers’ eyes to the world of horticulture around them.

Read More
SAF CAD

March 18, 2015

Growers Ask For Immigration And Healthcare Reform Durin…

Nearly 90 growers, retailers, suppliers and wholesales attended the Society of American Florists' (SAF) 2015 Congressional Action Days March 9-10. The delegation, representing 18 states, arrived on Capitol Hill at a time when two major industry issues - immigration and healthcare reform - are especially prominent in national headlines.

Read More
Nexus Corporation's Cheryl Longtin Encourages Women To Seek Volunteer Leadership Opportunities

March 4, 2015

Nexus Corporation’s Cheryl Longtin Encourages Wom…

When Cheryl Longtin came to the horticulture business in 1994, she applied her experience in the automotive industry to promote the adoption of more technology in greenhouse production. Longtin says horticulture, with its rich family tradition, has long promoted women in the industry compared to other industries, but women in horticulture must continue to seek out opportunities to provide volunteer leadership in organizations that shape the future of the business.

Read More
Smart Herb Garden

March 2, 2015

Smartpot Uses Sensors And Cartridges To Ensure Success …

Click & Grow helps make it simple for consumers to grow their own herbs and spices at home, even if they have little experience with plants.

Read More

March 2, 2015

Student Flash Mob At TPIE Has Roots In Floriculture

The local FFA students who entertained TPIE attendees in 2014 and 2015 received industry donations of plants and a greenhouse structure to help expand their horticultural program.

Read More

February 12, 2015

GROW Perspective: What Is It You Do Again?

The industry is very good at talking about what we do and how we do it, but has almost completely lost touch with talking about why this work is important. As an industry, we need to promote our professions as vital to healthier living.

Read More
bee photo

February 11, 2015

26 Ways Growers Improve The Green Industry

In Greenhouse Grower’s annual State Of The Industry Survey, we asked how your operation is living the GROW Initiative’s five pillars: How are you driving consumer success, cultivating new customers, demanding quality, investing in the industry and sharpening business management? Through your candid responses, we learned about some of the ideas you’ve implemented and steps you’re taking for 2015. Here are just a few.

Read More
Noble Foundation

February 3, 2015

Lloyd Noble Scholars Program Application Period Now Ope…

The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation is offering college students an opportunity to work side-by-side with the Noble Foundation’s renowned agricultural consultants and researchers through the Lloyd Noble Scholars in Agriculture program, a summer internship that provides students the opportunity to enhance their in-class education with real-world application and experiences.

Read More

January 7, 2015

GROW Summit 2014 Homes In On The Issues That Keep You U…

During Greenhouse Grower’s third annual GROW Summit in December a number of ideas, questions and calls-to-action transpired. Here are a few of the highlights.

Read More
GROW Logo

January 6, 2015

Growers Resolve To Educate Public About Their Operation…

See what growers plan to work on for their 2015 business resolutions.

Read More

December 22, 2014

National Garden Bureau Launches Therapeutic Garden Prog…

National Garden Bureau has chosen the Growing Solutions Farm in Chicago as the first beneficiary of its annual fundraising effort "Growing For Futures."

Read More

December 19, 2014

Hydroponic Food Production Course Serves Up Life Lesson…

Students in the new HORT 331X Hydroponic Food Crop Production course at Iowa State University are producing more food than they can eat, so they began donating the vegetables they produce to a local food pantry and free meal program.

Read More
GROW Logo

December 8, 2014

“The Cheapest Generation” Will Be Tomorrow&…

Members of the Millennial generation aren’t buying cars and houses the way their parents did, and according to a recent article from The Atlantic titled “The Cheapest Generation,” it might be more than an effect of a bad economy. So what does this mean for horticulture? Industry members weigh in.

Read More
Katie Nickolaus

November 25, 2014

Proven Winners Names 2014 Scholarship Winners

Looking to promote industry leaders of the future, Proven Winners has established a $15,000 scholarship program that awards students in three distinct areas - breeding, marketing and growing.

Read More

November 24, 2014

GROW Perspective: We Need To Think Bigger

Garry Grueber of Cultivaris and Global Breadfruit says the horticulture industry must evolve to help solve the problems of world hunger and food insecurity.

Read More

November 13, 2014

NY SunWorks’ Greenhouse Project Aims To Build 100 Labs …

NY SunWork's Greenhouse Project aims to build 100 labs by 2020. With 15 greenhouse project labs built and 11 more in development, it’s on its way to reaching that goal.

Read More

November 4, 2014

Millennials Rank Gardening Among Top 5 Leisure Activiti…

United Kingdom consumers, aged 25 to 35, have rated gardening as a top five favorite leisure activity.

Read More
Ken Altman

October 27, 2014

GROW Perspective: Why I Give Back To The Industry

Ken Altman of Altman Plants knows a thing or two about the green industry, including the importance of contributing to the industry he loves.

Read More