Seed breeders and growers enthusiastic about the results of Natupol Seeds

Lommerse - Natupol seeds

From specialist seed breeders who are creating new species, to large-scale outdoor seed growers, Koppert Biological Solutions has a range of Natupol products that suits each breeder, crop and local condition. While the first Natupol pollination products were introduced almost 30 years ago, Natupol Seeds came onto the market just over a year ago and has been steadily gaining popularity.

Koppert Communications specialist, Judita Bokrosova, spoke to Dutch seed breeder, Henry Lommerse, at his propagating centre in Mariahout, in the province of North Brabant, the Netherlands. Lommerse is one of the top seed breeders in the Netherlands and has been in the seed business since 1980. He has been using Natupol products for almost a decade and has been personally involved with refining the Natupol Seeds concept. This year he actively used Natupol Seeds for his specialist seed breeding projects.

Natupol Seeds for a good start
‘I started for myself in 1995 and built up a seed breeding company which now has a staff of 5 people and a number of students. Breeding is our core business and we have a greenhouse of some 5500 m², plus half a hectare of outdoor fields. We don’t do the mainstream crops of the big companies. We are focused on the smaller niche products,’ Lommerse explains. ‘At present we work for four companies; a company with seed products; one with annuals; one with perennials; and a company for cut flowers and our vegetative products. What we do for these companies requires small isolated areas.’ Lommerse explains that certain products need pollination as early as January. ‘Initially, we use flies, small active flies. From February on when there is more light, and some sun from time to time, we start using bumblebees as they are more active than honeybees at this time. Honeybees need warmer temperatures. The bumblebees can work for the whole season in the same isolated areas as the flies.’ He explains that he has observed that the flies are more active in the company of bumblebees. Flies which sit idle on the net partitions and flowers take off as soon as a bumblebee passes and this increases their activity. ‘That is why we only need a small number of bumblebees in the isolated areas.’

Long lasting and effective pollination
The Natupol Seed boxes with around ten worker bumblebees and a batch of male eggs are tailored for the limited pollen supply in the small-scale crops. The area and the pollen requirements of the brood are in balance and are the basis for a long lifespan. The first males, which are very effective pollinators, emerge in the first week. In the weeks that follow, more and more new males will emerge. In this way, Natupol Seeds ensures long-lasting and effective pollination, extending over at least three weeks and up to four or even six weeks. Natupol Seeds has been prepared in such a way that the bumblebees are able to survive without pollen for a few days after arrival which is convenient if the crop is not yet flowering. It’s ideal for small, isolated crops of 1 to 25 m².

Bumblebees vs honeybees
‘So we start with Natupol Seeds and then progress to the bigger hives. This is the reason for working with a range of Natupol products as the number of flowers increase or the size of the area increases,’ Lommerse continues. ‘Later on, in the spring, we also have the cooperation of honeybees, but the bumblebees remain active even when temperatures drop. Another advantage of bumblebees over honeybees, is that they are not looking for a particular species of flowers. Honeybees are much fussier in that respect; bumblebees pollinate all sorts of flowers.’ Lommerse added that honeybees also needed a bigger area than bumblebees to operate in. ‘The overall use of bumblebees is very positive,’ he added.

‘In the early days Koppert only had the bigger Natupol boxes. These were fine for the production companies, but not for breeding companies.’ As a regular user of Koppert’s products, Lommerse discussed the seed breeders’ particular needs with Natupol Product Manager, Remco Huvermann. Lommerse conducted trials on his farm over a three year period using smaller boxes and wrote a short, practical report on his findings. Koppert R&D continued with their research on different types of bumblebees and Natupol Seeds was born out of this cooperation.

General trends in the seed sector
‘The main market for the seed industry is Western Europe. The US is another important market, as is Japan for some time now, and more recently China,’ Lommerse explains. ‘We are still leaders in this market and the Netherlands has a good climate for breeding and testing, but a growing number of seed producers are now operating in East Africa, South America, China and India. Many of these producers are under Dutch management and make use of Dutch know-how. At present the leading ornamental and vegetable seed companies are in the Netherlands.’

‘The future for the Netherlands lies in the ornamentals. That means making crossings by hand, developing new products by way of crossing species and looking for new possibilities while responding to market needs,’ says Lommerse. ‘Turning perennials into annuals which means that plants which only flower every two years can flower annually, is an interesting option. Remember that this process takes 6-8 years from idea to realization and 8-10 years for hybrid products,’ Lommerse explains.

So what makes a good seed breeder?
‘You need to know the market and anticipate its needs. Use your knowledge, use your network and your contacts,’ Lommerse advises. ‘I’ve been active in the seed breeding market for 30 years and have always listened to experienced breeders. I now talk to students about what we are doing. And the same goes for suppliers such as Koppert. You need to have positive cooperation and trust in your supplier. It’s not only about business and profit. With cooperation and trust you both win.’