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EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 23 During the winter growing season mainly in southern Europe Italy and Spain varieties with a good level of tol- erance to cold temperature and disease resistance are required. During spring and summer growing periods varieties with a good bolting tolerance round shape and a good level of crispiness are required. Historically the type of Florence fennel that is grown for its bulbs was typically an Italian crop but has now spread to many other regions of the world. If fennel is being grown in California Australia or Argentina it is likely the influ- ence of Italians who have immigrated to those places. The increase in fennel consumption is undoubtedly related to its nutritional proper- ties and health benefits. Still this vegetable remains largely unknown with little or no consumption in Europe except Italy Asia and Africa. The production of fennel bulb in the Maghreb region is fairly recent especially in Algeria where it has been increasing since the 1950s and today covers several thousand hectares says Boussac. Bejo focuses its breeding on crop pro- duction to be used for fresh market and food industries like ready-to-use products and possibly increasing its use for the juicing industry all in conjunction with a healthier lifestyle according to Zutt. A HEALTHY CHOICE Fennel is considered a very healthy vegeta- ble high in vitamins and low in calories. It is very rich in water approximately 93 per cent and has a low energetic value 10-15 calories per 100 grams of the edible part. In the diet it brings fibre 0.5-0.7 per cent of the fresh weight but has also a high content of vitamins A and C. Additionally fennel can be prepared through different cooking methods. It can be eaten raw boiled grilled stir-fried and as such is easily adaptable to different tastes and cook- ing habits in worldwide cuisine. Increased popularity of the crop is due to the heightened attention by consumers to the health aspects of their diet. In particular to the fact that fennel is very poor in terms of calories is an excellent source of vitamin C and has a very good content of fibre and others nutrients folate potassium molybdenum manganese phosphorus cupper. In addi- tion over the past 15 years several scientific articles have come out linking fennel to anti- bacterial antioxidant and anticancer activity. Schiappa adds that the spreading of this crop at an international level is very much linked to healthier dietary trends. Now that fennel is becoming an ever more popular crop one may wonder whether fennel breeding has been able to keep up with this increased demand. According to Salvado Italys produc- tion of fennel is stable. The total tonnage has increased over the last 15 years with the introduction of hybrid varieties. Furthermore according to regional adaptation trials varie- ties made for Italy are also suitable for use in other countries with similar climates and lat- itudes. This indicates that current programs match demand. Schiappa agrees. By filling the past gaps of the market which were due to a lack of availability of suitable genetics todays breeders allow fennel to be grown 360 days a year and therefore the consumer demand is always satisfied. RESISTANCES TO PESTS AND DISEASES In terms of breeding for disease resistance it appears that fennel is a very hardy spe- cies with relatively few pathogens affecting it. We test our material in situ to eliminate all germplasm that might be vulnerable to disease Boussac adds. According to Schiappa one of the main problems in fennel is the susceptibility to winter conditions and to many pathogens that compromise many production hectares each year. The pathogens are different from bacteria to fungi and will remain a problem until farms pay the right attention to the rotation of the crops. Therefore even if we have resistant plants as a tool but we are not respecting the right agricultural practices we will always have problems. The most dangerous diseases for fennel are Sclerotinia sclerotiorum that attacks the basal part of the bulb and damages the product causing rotting and spots and the bacterium Erwinia carotovora for which it is hard to breed in resistance. Fennel is also impacted by Romularia foeniculi a type of leaf rust. A relative newcomer is fungus dis- ease Alternaria petroselini first reported in Italy in 2007 which can cause a significant reduction in quality. INVESTMENT NEEDED Fennel is a crop that is continually being improved. Salvado notes that HM.Clause has decided to launch a mini-fennel under the brand name Babyfino that delivers more flavour in a smaller package. Fennel can benefit from very advanced genetic techniques on par with major crops such as tomato or cauliflower says Schiappa. Many vegetable crops have been turned from self-pollinated or open-pollinated crops into hybrid crops. Fennel has recently undergone a similar process. At the end of the 1990s in Italy there were essentially only open pol- linated varieties. Today 90 to 95 per cent of the professional growers are using only F1 hybrids because of their better yield and quality. This is equally true in other European countries. If the breeding program is well devel- oped and one has a good number of almost fixed parental lines to obtain a new fennel variety it will require five to six years adds Pallottini. Instead if you have to start from zero you need some 10 to 15 years. Zutt says that the development of a new variety takes eight to 12 years and production of seed and introduction to the market another three years. In our breed- ing program we test and select thousands of lines annually and as such we are able to introduce new varieties every year world- wide. Virgo F1 and Pegaso F1 are examples of recent introductions. These early season varieties hold strong during low temper- atures and provide a healthy plant with a firm and round shaped bulb of an appealing white colour. It takes a lot of effort time and expertise before such new varieties can be introduced to the market. The majority of the work takes place in our dedicated research centre for fennel located in Italy where we have a specialised fennel breeding team. Pallottini adds that in fennel they have started to use molecular markers. They are a formidable tool that can speed up a lot the breeding work. We are using them for i checking the identity of varieties and parental lines ii assess the purity of vari- eties and parental lines iii speed up the reaching of a high level of homozygosity in the selection process of the parental lines. In the coming years very probably this tool can be used also for building of the heterotic groups also in fennel he says. In the last 20 to 30 years Monsanto with its brand Asgrow has given a great contribution to the history of the fennel breeding developing important varieties like Trevi Pontino Pitagora and more recently Aurelio. Also today Monsanto strongly believes in this crop and invests a lot of efforts in its breeding research pro- gram in order to fully satisfy the actual and future needs of all involved parties in the fennel chain growers dealers and final con- sumers. THE INCREASE IN FENNEL CONSUMPTION IS UNDOUBTEDLY RELATED TO ITS NUTRITIONAL PROPERTIES AND HEALTH BENEFITS. JEAN MARIE BOUSSAC FROM HM.CLAUSE INSPECTS FENNEL VARIETIES.