Issue 109: Think Pink

November/December 2009
By Christine Paul

Commercial release of hydroponically produced and field grown

Pink Pearl cherry tomatoes is set to aid breast cancer research.

Established in 1994 to consolidate leading seed companies into a global research, production and marketing platform, Seminis – a prominent global fruit and vegetable seed organisation – was subsequently acquired by the Monsanto company in 2005. It offers growers more than 3,000 seed varieties representing 25 crops.

The company also operates 51 research and product development stations in 17 countries. In particular, Seminis has prioritised the development and cataloguing of ‘germplasm’ – the hereditary information stored in seeds – to date, preserving around 1.5 million breeding lines.

Last year, Seminis announced the Australian release of its unique Pink Pearl cherry tomatoes to directly benefit the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF).

Seminis Vegetable Seeds Western Australia manager, John McBride, said the world’s first commercial release of Pink Pearl cherry tomatoes presented a “good fit” for a corporate partnership with the Australian charity due to their name and colour.

“Globally, Seminis is involved in many community-based projects but this particular concept is a first. We had to meet key criteria throughout the process including traceability and charity legislation requirements,” John says. “Pink Pearl cherry tomatoes meet all these objectives and we are confident they will both raise vital funds for breast cancer research and help Seminis achieve a significant share of the cherry tomato market.

“Seed companies like Seminis are always looking for an edge – produce that increases consumer uptake because of its great flavour, achieves good returns for the growers and lifts the status of fruit and vegetables in general.”

The Pink Pearl tomato is sold in markets in packaging displaying the pink ribbon, the internationally recognisable symbol of breast cancer awareness and research. Although breast cancer awareness is particularly high in the month of October (Breast Cancer Month), the tomatoes will be sold year-round.

NBCF Head of Fundraising, Libby O’Neill, congratulated Seminis on their continued support of the NBCF through the sale of their Pink Pearl cherry tomatoes.

“The Pink Pearl cherry tomatoes help raise funds for the NBCF’s research programs into the prevention and cure of breast cancer – including the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and exercise recovery programs for women in remote and rural areas, research that benefits everyone from the grower to the consumer,” Ms O’Neill says.

”The Pink Pearl cherry tomatoes also help bring greater awareness of our cause into regional areas where the tomatoes are grown. The more awareness raised, the better the outcomes for the early detection of breast cancer.

Plus, with The World Cancer Research Fund recommending a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, in addition to being physically active, to help prevent cancer, purchasing a punnet of Pink Pearl cherry tomatoes means shoppers are not only contributing to their own good health but to research that will benefit women everywhere,” Ms O’Neill said.

“The agreement with the NBCF ensures the Pink Pearl will always be sold in punnets displaying the Pink Ribbon, and assures selected growers they have the opportunity to grow an exceptional variety while supporting the NBCF,” John McBride adds.

Pearler of a tomato
Pink Pearl cherry tomatoes are grown both in soil and hydroponically under protective structures in Australia’s key growing regions of Virginia, South Australia, and Carnavon, West Australia. The tomatoes are also under growing trials in Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland in an attempt to guarantee year-round availability.

Ben Hoodless, Business Development Manager for Seminis says that both John McBride and Seminis SA Territory Manager, Paul Pezzaniti, were behind screening trials of the Pink Pearl, playing key roles in its development in WA and SA

“They recognised the commercial potential of the product early on. Right now we are still very much in the developmental phase, however, going forward we are seeking to take a national focus and maximise availability of the product on a nationwide basis as soon as possible,” Ben says.

So how did the Pink Pearl originate?
“The Pink Pearl cherry tomato was developed out of a joint effort between our Korean and Italian tomato breeders,” John McBride says. “This sharing of material through traditional breeding systems has resulted in a product with the best of both programs. An attractive fruit with superb colour and flavour makes the Pink Pearl tomato unique.”

Because of their small size and durability, the Pink Pearl, like other cherry tomatoes, can be used in salads and dishes where they are eaten whole, such as in kebabs or finger foods. Although conventional cherry tomatoes won’t yield the thick slices to top a sandwich like traditional varieties do, they are often sought out because they are described as sweeter and fruitier-tasting than the full-sized versions.

“In Asia, pink tomatoes are commonplace,” adds Ben Hoodless. “For the Australian market we sought to develop a product that still retained the pink colour and sweetness but at the same time had a superior firmness factor, which the Pink Pearl has.”

The vine-ripened, glossy and distinctively crimson-pink cherry tomatoes are being sold by the punnet in selected Foodland stores in South Australia and IGA stores in Western Australia.

P’Petual Hydroponics
One grower of the Pink Pearl cherry tomato is Andrew Potter from P’Petual Hydroponics, one of the largest suppliers of premium quality hydroponic tomatoes in Australia, with a staff of around 45. The farm is based in Virginia on the Adelaide Plains, 26km north of Adelaide, SA, and features six growing compartments on 6 hectares.

Besides the Pink Pearl, the company also grows other varieties of tomato, including Truss (their biggest line), Kumato, Cherry and Cocktail. It also produces mini cucumbers, popular with consumers for their sweetness as snacks.

“We are still in trial stages with the Pink Pearl,” Andrew says. “We started off earlier this year with 20 plants with seeds from Seminis then increased to around 600 plants. Basically, the time from seed to tomato is around 14 to 15 weeks.

P’Petual has three greenhouses (twin-skin plastic), each with an area space of 20,000 square metres, and a floor to gutter ratio of 4 metres. Each greenhouse is equipped with the latest specialised equipment and software.

“We use a Priva Integro Environment Computer system to control the environmental factors in the greenhouses such as heating systems, fogging, irrigation systems, water and plant nutrition,” Andrew says.

“The Pink Pearls are grown in truss and we irrigate by a drip system using a dripper line. We use rockwool as a medium for the tomatoes and keep the temperature at around 20° Celsius.

P’Petual implements IPM to control pests in greenhouses. Natural predators are introduced to minimise the use of chemicals.

“We use Encarsia for whitefly, Montdorensis for thrips and Persimilis for spider mite,” Andrew says.

Tomato packaging is done on the farm and not outsourced to any external packing houses.

“Once the tomatoes have fruited we pick them in the greenhouse and move them to the cool room where they’re shipped out in less than 48 hours,” he says. “Our Quality Control Officer thoroughly checks tomatoes before the tomatoes are delivered to our customers.”

The company is fully HACCP SQF 1 2000, WQA and Coles certified and is regularly audited by and external source.

Currently P’Petual supplies both locally and interstate.

“We supply Pink Pearl to SA Foodland outlets and we are also currently looking at expanding into other markets. By this time next year we are hoping to have substantially increased our yield.”

Meanwhile the NBCF’s Libby O’Neill says the Pink Ribbon campaign has helped raise $55 million for 230 research projects since the organisation was established in 1994.

“The NBCF relies on the generous support of the community and our Corporate partnerships, such as the one we have with Seminis, to continue to fund our research projects. In the last 10 years we have seen a 22% decrease in the number of deaths from breast cancer and that’s due to the better detection methods and improved treatments we now have,” she says.

“Already this year we’ve managed to achieve our target commitment to the NBCF,” Ben Hoodless adds. “It’s good to have this opportunity to work with and contribute to such a worthy organisation.”

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