Nathan Gorter-Smith is the Trial Coordinator for Seminis Vegetable Seeds. Based in Pukekohe, Nathan spends his days gathering data from trials of pre-commercial varieties in crops such as sweet corn, broccoli and importantly for New Zealand, onions.
“What I like about my job is that it’s a great mix of indoor and outdoor, on-farm work,” Nathan explains.
“I get to apply the science that I’ve learned during my career and apply that to the horticulture industry in New Zealand. I get to work with the technology Seminis offers and figure out the best way to use it to benefit the production potential of local growers,” says Nathan.
Seminis’ Pukekohe-based onion breeding station is currently producing around 100 hybrids each year. It is Nathan’s job to take those that look most promising and run trials in key growing regions across the country. This year, Nathan is assessing 17 varieties across 8 trials, in four locations including Pukekohe, Matamata, Hawkes Bay and Canterbury.
“The aim of my screening trials is to assess these varieties across the early, main and late time slots across different geographies, to work out in what windows the variety best performs. We replicate the trial in each of the windows, pushing them into the next window as well.
“During the trials, we collect a significant amount of data. We will assess bolting, maturity, bulb uniformity, storage, skin retention, firmness, vigour, necks and disease susceptibility and we will rate the colour of the bulb. We take a sample of 50 onions from every trial and measure the diameters, to gauge uniformity of size.
“Here in Canterbury, the soil type is very different. It is a completely different and unique growing environment with specific environmental and soil conditions. It is only by trialling here that we can work out whether a variety produced in Pukekohe, can work Canterbury growers,” Nathan said.
One of the highlights for the Canterbury region from the Seminis breeding program, has been new hybrid, Harrier. Seminis’ Sales Representative for New Zealand, Nick Williams spoke highly of the new variety and its fit in the market.
“After 32 Harrier trials across the country last year and gathering data from every single one, are also keeping track of commercial plantings to further assess its performance. With the weather we’ve had this year around the country, Harrier’s wide adaptability has certainly helped growers in their plating schedules.
“We are confident that Harrier has a place in every growing onion region around New Zealand and it has been great to see Harrier’s wide adaptability working well,” said Nick.
“Nathan and the other members of the Research and Development team based in Pukekohe don’t let us see too much of the early phase material. This is because we tend to get excited about varieties that are still possibly 10 years away. This year we have had 17 new hybrids that we can trial and assess on and off station, which gives me great confidence in our pipeline.
“Nathan’s screening trials around the country gives us an insight into the regional performance of each variety and the data we collect is essential to our variety selection and progression,” Nick said.
“When combined with grower feedback, the data we collect is helping to drive better onions for New Zealand’s farmers,” Nick said.