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2024 Spring Pack Trails: Flower Breeders Return to 57th Annual Event

By: Greg Bozzo, published by gmhToday Spring 2024 Edition

March 21st  is the first day of spring but March 20, 2024 is the official kickoff of the California spring pack trials.  The pack trials are an annual event, where breeders of bedding-flower, cut-flower, vegetables and ornamental plants show off their recent releases to customers.  Commercial buyers and consumers come from across the country and the globe to catch the latest and greatest plant hybrid and growing techniques. 

The Northern California locations are in Salinas, Watsonville, Morgan Hill and Gilroy.  Breeders spend months and tens of thousands of dollars preparing for the annual 4-day event. Admission to these unique shows are usually limited by invitation to those in the industry, and not open to the general public. The shows are normally held in a greenhouse and are set up with the most unbelievably, magnificent floral displays of hundreds of different types of plants  that breeders hope to become their next greatest best sellers.   

To the untrained eye, many of the  displays may look no different than their previous releases. Oftentimes, however, years of  research are inside the plant that may make it more disease resistant, have longer lasting flowers, or stronger stems for better handling and distribution. An improved hybrid vegetable plant may offer new characteristics such as heat and disease resistance which leads to better yields. Danny Fiorio, of Gilroy’s, Fiorio Farms, says, “these higher yields are needed to offset the rising costs of farming.”  It's these new and improved varieties which will be on display at the annual show that farmers and flower growers are always anticipating with the hopes of giving them an edge.    

This highly-regarded, popular, annual gathering actually started in Gilroy in 1967 by Glenn and Jane Goldsmith, founders of Goldsmith’s Seeds, now owned by Syngenta, located on the west side of Gilroy. The Goldsmith family is well known in the industry, world-wide, for significant advances in the vegetable and floral industry.  One of the most popular cherry-type tomatoes grown by amateur gardeners everywhere is named, Sweet 100. Gilroyans should know that this variety of tomato was developed decades ago by the Goldsmiths. 

Joel Goldsmith, son of Glenn and Jane, believes one of their most successful projects was in the nineties with  the development of  an improved hybrid bedding flower called, Vinca For years, growers around the world had stopped producing the once-popular, heat resistant, bedding-flower because of its susceptibility to the devastating whitefly Glenn and Jane ventured to the jungles of Madagascar to collect native Vinca. They found unique alkaloids in the native vinca that did not exist in the commercially-grown, problematic varieties.   

Alkaloids are plant compounds that make plants unpalatable to herbivores including insects. It's one of nature's  survival mechanisms. Plant alkaloids are also used extensively in medicine. The Goldsmiths found that the alkaloids in the native vinca, when bred with commercially desired varieties, made their plants repel whitefly. This discovery thrust their Vinca hybrid to the top and interest poured in from across the country and overseas.      

These trade shows should serve as a reminder  of how important the horticulture and agriculture industry is in our region. Young people should know that good careers in agriculture and ag-science can be found in  south Santa Clara County!  Great paying managerial, scientific and ag-sales related jobs can be found at these locally-based American, Dutch and Japanese companies. A career in plant breeding can be attractive to those who love the idea of conducting complex scientific experiments in a lab but having the opportunity to work outside in fields of flowers, vegetables and plants.  

The neat rows of colorful flowers and lush vegetables outside any plant breeders office are all experiments being watched closely by scientists. While non-hybrid, open pollinating plants have a role in agriculture and gardens everywhere, it’s the hybrids, developed by plant breeders, which has allowed agriculture, worldwide, to keep up with population growth and  combat against plant diseases, rise in temperature, and drought. 

South Santa Clara County has long been known for agriculture production. Garlic and mushrooms come to most people's minds, first. Row crops such as corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, peppers and lettuce are observed almost year round. Thousands of cattle roam the hillsides. Acres of wine grapes add to the beauty of this region. Years ago, prunes and dairy- cattle could be found all around the valley floor. Today, nursery, flower crops and plant breeders play a significant role in not only the uniqueness of south county but to our economy that all of our ag businesses help support.


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