Vegetables are essential ingredients in a healthy diet that is well balanced. Their rising consumption worldwide shows the recognition of their health benefits. Globally, the production and marketing of vegetable crops is rapidly evolving. This is mainly attributable to the increasing consumer demand for safe and nutritious vegetables, and to the growing size and effect of supermarket chains. Through testing, breeding and creativity, horticultural science will respond to many of these challenges, seeking to obtain more effective crop production methods, refined post-harvest storage and handling methods, new and higher value vegetable cultivars, and to demonstrate their health benefits.
Plant breeding requires dedicated expertise and infrastructure, plus substantial and reliable funding, and is a long-term endeavour. A core part of modern horticulture that combines seed development, genetic improvement, seed production, storage, and distribution is the high-tech seed industry. The global vegetable seed trade is dominated by a few multinational companies. The needs of both the customer and the producer have to be met and fulfilled by vegetable breeding. Plant breeding provides the means to introduce tolerance to host plants, to adapt crops to stressful conditions, and to grow cultivars with the desired quality of produce. Vegetable breeding advancement depends on specific expertise, emerging technology creation and implementation, access to genetic resources, and the capital to use them. Acquiring or rising market share is the driving force behind this innovation. For the production of new vegetable cultivars, access to technology as well as biodiversity is important. To prevent a potential conflict involving the rights of breeders, gene preservation and degradation, active and constructive relations between the private and public breeding sectors and large-scale gene banks are needed.
In order to breed vegetables for multifunctional horticulture (diversity, health promotion, post-harvest, year-round supply, etc.) and to cope with harsher climate conditions and lower inputs than expected, horticulturalists will need to grow cultural practises and vegetable breeders. Improved systems of production that can cope with severe climatic conditions must allow the production of vegetables under high temperatures, higher drought stress, increased salinity of the soil and intermittent flooding. This will require a blend of improved cultivars of vegetables and modified systems of production.

Author (s) Details

Prof. João Carlos da Silva Dias
Instituto Superior de Agronomia, University of Lisbon, Tapada da Ajuda, 1349-017 Lisboa, Portugal.

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