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All the latest news on Starke Ayres’ vegetable seed varieties, and the success that commercial vegetable seed farmers have achieved using them.

This page will also be updated with new seed variety releases and other commercial seed industry news.

Brassica stunting disorder: a real threat to sustainable cabbage production in South Africa.

Over the last three years, cabbage farmers across large sections of South Africa have observed a new disease called ‘Brassica stunting disorder’. This anomaly has been observed since 2012, mainly in the Brits area, but has spread throughout the country and now occurs in most of the cabbage producing regions (Fig. 1). The disease is characterized by stunted plants, flattening and occasional purpling of the leaves, side shoot development, vascular discoloration in the stem and the midrib of leaves, poor root development, low yield and quality of the final product. This reduces market value of the crop (Fig. 2). Disease incidence varies with season and variety.  In some cases up to 90% incidence has been seen. The disease has also been recorded on broccoli and cauliflower crops, but incidence on these crops is much lower.

From the high disease incidence reported and the rapid spread of infection across the country over the last 3 years, it is evident that effective control measures are needed to ensure continued sustainable production of Brassica crops by both commercial and subsistence farmers. To this end, six industry members (Bayer, Klein Karoo Seed Marketing, Sakata, Starke Ayres, Syngenta and the Seedling Growers Association of South Africa) have partnered with researchers from the University of Johannesburg to investigate Brassica stunting disorder. The most important questions that the study will aim to answer are the identity of the disease-causing pathogen and its mode of transmission, followed by the development of a molecular detection technique. This information will then be made available to the industry as well as directly to farmers so that effective disease management practices can be developed.

To learn more about the problem, a field trial was set up in Brits area over a period of four months (March-June) in 2014. This region was chosen due to high disease incidence of the problem. The disease progression was monitored throughout the season on a susceptible cabbage variety, grown in the open field and within cages covered with insect proof netting. The predominant insect species were monitored with the use of blue and yellow sticky traps that were placed in the field and cages. The first symptoms were observed in the uncaged plants four to six weeks after transplanting. It was seen that plants could be infected at different stages, with the disease severity being greater following early infection. Plants infected at early stages (between 4-6 weeks) displayed severe symptoms, including stunting, flattening, purpling of leaves, increased side shoot formation and no head formation. Those plants infected later in the season did produce heads but these showed clearly reduced size when compared to heads from uninfected plants (Fig 3.)

A comparison of open field plants and those from inside the cages showed that the disease causing pathogen is not seed, soil or water-borne. Little or no infection was seen inside the cages, whereas 90% of the plants grown in the field were infected. The most likely vector of the disease therefore seems to be a flying insect. The most predominant flying insects observed during the trial were various species of leafhoppers (Aconurella, Austroagallia, Delphacid, Exitianus, Circulifer/Nesoclutha) and whiteflies (Trialeurodes vaporariorum). The information generated in the field trial served to narrow down the possible list of insect vector species. The study will now aim to identify the specific vector species in a similar field trial that is planned for the 2015 growing season.

The key remaining question is the identity of the disease causing pathogen and this has proven to be more difficult question to answer.  One of the main challenges in identifying the pathogen responsible is the presence of numerous different potentially pathogenic microorganisms on the diseased cabbages collected from the field. The study is currently attempting to isolate the specific pathogen by transmission of the infectious agent from diseased cabbages to healthy cabbage seedlings under pathogen and insect free conditions by sap and graft inoculation and dodder transmission. To date, successful transmission of the infectious agent has been achieved by sap inoculation (Fig 4.). Currently attempts are being made to identify the disease causing pathogen by two different methods. Firstly, visual comparison of sap inoculated and non-inoculated control plants by electron microscopy, a technique capable of revealing microorganisms inside diseased tissue. Secondly, the genetic material isolated from the inoculated and non-inoculated control plants are compared by a technique called Next Generation Sequencing, in an attempt to pinpoint the genetic material of the pathogen present only in symptomatic cabbages. Upon identification of the infectious agent, the study aims to develop a molecular detection technique that will be used to further monitor its’ spread. This will assist with identification of the insect species responsible for disease transmission and also with the identification of weeds that may be reservoirs for this pathogen.

Taken together, the information generated in this study will provide both farmers and the broader agro-industry with the tools to develop and implement various management strategies, such as improved cropping practices, producing effective barriers against the vectors or the use of appropriate pesticides to control the specific vector populations, or possibly the development of more resistant cultivars.


Open/View: Brassica stunting disorder


Watch out! Here comes Trinity...

Since the outbreak of Tomato curly stunt virus (ToCSV) in South Africa a number of years ago (ToCSV is part of the same family as Tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV)), the industry has faced serious challenges. South Africa is a country with high bacterial and fungal disease pressures, and the added burden of this virus puts more strain on already embattled growers. Many varieties launched during this period were selected from foreign breeding programmes and had resistance to TYLCV. However, these varieties often lacked resistance to the other bacterial and fungal diseases endemic to the country. During this period the Starke Ayres tomato breeding programme focused on developing varieties which combined viral, fungal and bacterial resistances.

The English word "trinity" is derived from Latin word trinitas, meaning "the number three, a triad". This is an appropriate name for the new indeterminate round tomato launched by Starke Ayres. Previously known as the experimental variety TF 3393, Trinity possesses resistance to the three most important viral diseases in the South African tomato industry. These are Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), Tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) and TYLCV.  A recent trial at the University of Johannesburg where Trinity and susceptible lines were deliberately infected with ToCSV has confirmed Trinity’s excellent tolerance not only to TYLCV, but also to the South African ToCSV. Considered to be a breakthrough in genetics, Trinity was bred to include features such as high yield, fruit quality and the combination of multi virus with strong bacterial disease resistances.  The variety was intensively trialed and tested over four seasons in different segments across the country. Results were astounding and clearly indicated that the variety has huge potential for the future. Trials conducted in the Mooketsi region of the Limpopo province showed an increase in yield of 3 kg per plant over the standard variety (Star 9037). With more and more markets requiring medium sized tomatoes, Trinity falls firmly in this segment and produced an average fruit size of 149gm in the Mooketsi trial. Being highly adaptable to various climatic conditions, Trinity gives growers complete peace of mind. The variety performed exceptionally well in areas with high virus pressure when compared to susceptible varieties. It also proved to have field resistance to black stem, caused by Pseudomonas syringae pv. tomato. This is the causal agent of bacterial speck and symptoms are normally associated with cooler weather. From the first experimental trials it was clear that Trinity has to be pruned to a single or double stems. This allows the variety to reach its maximum potential with very high and uniform fruit setting.

After an extended and intense product development period, Trinity has finally arrived and will reduce risks for the tomato producer. Seed is commercially available through the Starke Ayres sales network.

Open/View: Here comes TRINITY


Johan du Preez - Garden Pavilion Rep of the year 2014

Congratulations to Johan du Preez who was named the Garden Pavilion Rep of the year at the recent Garden Pavilion conference. Johan has made a valiant effort on behalf of Starke Ayres and we thank him for all his hard work!


Blooming Good

Here at Starke Ayres, Spring has sprung!  With that in mind we have kicked off the season in blooming good fashion.

Nothing shouts Spring and Summer like a colourful garden and that is why we have specially chosen 6 firm favourite, easy to grow flower varieties.  The time to plant is now, so go with the Gardeners Choice and choose from Nasturtiums, Carnations, Marigolds, Impatiens, Petunias or Portulacas and your garden will be blooming in full colour before long.

If veggies are your thing you have to try our new Special Collection baby veg range.  Bite size Sweet Peppers, Thai Gold Baby Corn and Baby Emerald Squash will add variety and fun to your garden and your diet!

And finally for the more adventurous, our Squash Patty Mix or Bitter Gourd vegetable seeds will lead you on a culinary adventure.

So start planting now for a blooming, bountiful harvest!

Open/View: Starke Ayres Spring News 2014



Clearly visible is the growth of INVINCIBLE white pumpkin production in the Western Cape. INVINCIBLE is very tolerant of sunburn, has great internal quality and stores exceptionally well. White pumpkin production in South Africa has been given an INVINCIBLE boost by the introduction of a new variety featuring the concept of “Easy to Cut, Easy to Peel” with great taste. This unique variety is called INVINCIBLE and combines the quality characteristics of a grey pumpkin BUT with a white skin colour.

The advantage of the white skin colour is the improved tolerance to sunburn and this reduces grower risk significantly. Particularly important in areas where pumpkins are grown with vines, this tolerance allows a crop to remain on the land while grapes are harvested. INVINCIBLE also stores exceptionally well because discoloration of the white skin colour is much slower than with many grey pumpkins.

INVINCIBLE has a semi-bush growth habit with deep-flat shaped fruits and a thin, smooth skin. The flesh is much thicker and seed cavity smaller than most grey pumpkins. These features give INVINCIBLE an excellent size to weight ratio. This is one of the key aspects that attracted Preiss Visser of the farm Vorentoe to INVINCIBLE. Preiss has limited land available for pumpkin production and INVINCIBLE delivered for him a second year in a row. Preiss harvested 170 bins per hectare with an average weight of 5kg per fruit. Average fruit diameter was 28cm. Congratulations again Preiss with this excellent achievement.

Open/View: INVINCIBLE in the Cape


Shine Bright Like a *DIAMOND

It has been said that the most valuable feature of any diamond is the feeling it stirs in the person who puts it on and shows it off. It is perhaps for this reason diamonds have been described as a girl's best friend.  Not anymore! 

The new hybrid broccoli DIAMOND is set to become a farmer's best friend.  Characteristics such as a smooth, dome shaped head, low cut stem, medium sized beads, no hollow stem and best of all extremely quick maturity take DIAMOND a cut above the rest.  DIAMOND delivered a flawless performance when it was trialled as BR 621at major growers in Gauteng, KZN, and the Cape during last summer.  Bred to endure extremes in summer and winter, DIAMOND can be grown as a year round variety in many areas.  In summer DIAMOND can mature in as little as 60 days. Maturity may vary by as much as 10-25 days between mid- summer and mid-winter plantings (area andclimate dependant). Maturity is very uniform with a high first cut percentage. 

Apart from DIAMOND being  a quick and  highly adaptable variety, its other outstanding feature is that it can be cut very low at the base, making it ideal for a pre pack.  In DIAMOND we have unearthed yet another gem for broccoli growers. For an outstanding, high yielding broccoli designed for the fresh and pre pack market make DIAMOND part of your broccoli programme this summer!

For advice on growing slots for your specific area contact your area representative or our call centre for more advice.


Open/View: Shine bright like a diamond - Broccoli


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