All-America’s Picks: A win for home gardeners—and plant breeders, too

All-America’s Picks: A win for home gardeners—and plant breeders, too

Anyone who has scanned retail shelves of home garden seeds has seen—and perhaps been positively influenced by—the All-America Selections “winner” label carried by a small number of high-performing flower and edible crop seeds. But it’s not just home gardeners who benefit from the AAS awards program: it’s important for the seed industry, too.

For 94 years, All-America Selections (AAS), an independent non-profit plant testing organization, has tested new, never-before-sold varieties of annual, perennial and edible crops bred for the home garden market, celebrating the best of the best. Best with the prestigious AAS award. The award is more than just a pat on the back for the winners: it has industry-wide value.

“A rising tide lifts all ships… What I feel AAS does for the industry is always improving the value and quality that the end consumer gets because it’s been tested,” said Diane Blazek, executive director of AAS, during a Giant Views conversation with Seed World US editor Amy Nelson in 63 American Seed Trade Association: “It’s been tested against other really good varieties.”Research and development Annual Vegetable and Flower Seed Conference in Monterey, California.

The fact that breeders are willing to donate seeds and cuttings — not only to compete for an AAS award, but also to serve as experimental control or variety screening — shows the value the plant breeding community sees in the AAS process, Blazek added.

“If you are a breeder, you might donate one of your best-selling products in exchange for a trial entry. What if that entry performs better and displaces (your variety) in the market? However, all of these breeders continue to donate seeds and cuttings for comparisons,” she said. “This tells us the value.” They attach it to the trial process.”

Each variety submitted undergoes anonymous trials conducted by volunteer horticultural judges throughout North America. Judges evaluate items based on experimental performance against experimental control items. If the new variety outperforms market standards in terms of yield, health, etc. without major production defects, it is reviewed for an AAS award. Only the best are awarded the title of AAS Winner. The number of winners varies from year to year: up to six winners during the coronavirus and up to 30 winners. The numbers vary because winners are judged individually on their own merits, rather than in comparison to the year’s other contenders.

It’s not surprising that there’s a notable benefit to successfully winning an AAS award and leveraging the AAS brand, Blazek said.

“We know there’s a huge advantage in terms of sales to having an AAS winner. I just met with a retailer who said, ‘Oh my God: we’re always going to feature AAS winners because they sell Years who (continue to offer it) on their website and can’t believe how many seed packets are being sold because it’s an established AAS winner.”

Winning is not the only benefit for companies. Being part of the arbitration process also offers advantages.

“It can be a very good asset for a company to be involved in the trial process, especially if you’re a broker, dealer or retailer and you want to see what’s coming from breeders: then you might want to become an AAS trial site,” Blazek said. You can see what other breeders are coming up with because as a judge you see all the new things.”

Over its 14 years with AAS, the biggest market shift Blazek has seen is the compact plant frame geared toward patio and container gardening.

The change is “enough that we’ve added three new experiments to our range because we’ve always done experiments on the ground, and now we have experiments in containers,” she said. “Especially in the world of edible vegetables, we know that people want to grow cucumbers on their balconies, and you can do that now.” Through the new education work that will emerge.”

Another big shift she said she’s seeing in the breeding market is the ever-increasing gains in plant health.

“Breeders want to make the home gardener more successful, so disease resistance ranks very high on the list and is one of the traits we most commonly judge.”

Naturally, climate change and sustainability are at the forefront of the plant breeding community’s concerns.

“Breeders are already working on things with lower water needs, and that makes all the difference in the world for the home gardener,” Blazek said, adding that the organization is considering options to prioritize sustainability metrics in the judging process as well.

For more information about the AAS, visit https://all-americaselections.org/about/

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