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Lubera stops plant deliveries to the UK
Due to Brexit, we are not able to deliver to the UK. We are working on a solution on how we can continue to bring a wide range of Lubera plants to the UK and directly to our customers' homes in the future. However, such a solution will not be available before 2022 or 2023.

Why Lubera breeds new varieties

An interview with Markus Kobelt, conducted by Francijn Suermondt 

I’ll get straight to the point: Is it worth it to breed new varieties?

MK: (laughs) You would have to ask my accountant! He would certainly severely restrict such activities in this regard. Investments in breeding, which are ultimately not capitalised and only pay for themselves (or not) after a period of 15 to 30 years, are hard to be accounted for. But we omit this part: Where would Lubera® be without breeding, without the continuous development of varieties, with no annual, exclusive innovations? I'll give you the answer: Nowhere! We would not exist or not in this form. In retrospect, it is quite obvious that it’s worth it to breed our own varieties. This tendency has even been observed for some time in the area of bedding and balcony plants, but it is relatively new for woody plants. (Pause) Do I still have time for a somewhat elaborate business-related reply?

Yes, please.
Breeding can function as a driving force of growth; yes, as the motor of a plant company if you are willing to reinvest the majority of the cash flow (and certainly the entire cash flow that originated from breeding) back into the breeding.

I myself am far from being an accountant, but I understand this: You obviously do not breed to quickly amass great riches ;-) Why do you breed, Mr Kobelt?
After the exhausting answer about our accounting, I am almost a bit overwhelmed with this question. Why do I breed? First of all, because I like to do it; because it gives me joy and a purpose in life. And Lubera breeds because I have succeeded and continue to succeed at transmitting this passion to my company and employees... (pause) I can’t think of a better answer right now: Please ask this question again at the end of the interview!

How big are the breeding programmes at Lubera?

Very large according to our standards. The entire outdoor area, which we use as our breeding area (not including the tunnels and greenhouses that we do use to some extent), is six hectares. The majority of our breeding takes place in Buchs, at our headquarters in Switzerland, but recently there are also breeding projects taking place in Bad Zwischenahn and in England. On the breeding areas we cultivate 40,000 to 60,000 plants, grouped in about 15 breeding projects. Our current projects include raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries, fourberries, apples, pears, cherries, plum/Prunus hybrids, forsythia, hibiscus, Hydrangea paniculata, Pointilla-Eleagnus and chaste trees. Every year between 200 and 300 plants are selected from these new varieties; they are propagated and planted for further testing. The pipeline of advanced selections consists of approximately 150 varieties and then every year 5-10 new varieties from our own breeding programmes are introduced to the market.


Why do you have so many individual breeding programmes? Why not concentrate on just apples, for example?
Of course there are priorities, and one of them is for sure the apple. For apple breeding, we annually produce approximately 15,000 to 20,000 seeds. But ultimately, this programme is then divided again into sub-programmes, e.g. for the Redloves, for columnar apples, for mini apples, and for our top-secret breeding goals (smiles). As commercial breeders who do not make a living by scrounging for public funds, we have learned that we prefer the depth when it comes to the extent of breeding. If we want to be commercially successful, at least in the context just described (drivers of growth and a cash flow generator), then we need many and extensive breeding programmes, which give us a good chance to regularly launch as many plant species as possible

Does that not lead to superficiality?

No, that leads to breeding discipline; in the joy of it all to be able to ask yourself again and again what can come out of a breeding programme in a relevant time period; and for our customers, the hobby gardeners, to be able to offer relevant advantages: easier, more resistant, better, unique and different varieties. That is the inner compass that guides our breeding and prevents us from losing inl'art pour l'art” research and bureaucracy like many government programmes. But it is equally clear that we cannot carry out fundamental science; we not only lack the means, but we would lose track of our goals (the hobby gardeners and their desires for fruit, berries and flowering shrubs). 

How is it possible to have so many individual projects and to keep track of all these things?

That’s a good question! But actually everything is grown organically, which indeed helps overall. And again, the programmes are also distributed throughout our locations; we have breeding programmes in Buchs, in Bad Zwischenahn and we increasingly rely on cooperation partners, such as the leading English Research Institute for Horticulture, the East Malling Research Station in Kent. And year after year, according to the stage of each project, we also define certain priorities, which should be the focus of that particular year. In most programmes (except for the apples), raspberries, strawberries and Prunus are not newly crossed and so this gives us new focal points every year. And anyway: A bit of chaos is part of breeding, otherwise the element of surprise, the view of the breeder who sees something unexpected or the plant that provides us with its unexpected properties comes off badly.

You mentioned the cooperative breeding projects e.g. with East Malling - what is the difference to the old model where the varieties of other breeders were simply purchased?
East Malling is for us the prime example of a successful collaboration at various levels: our commercial cultivation partner has as a 3-acre trial area, we buy services for our own various breeding programmes (virus tests, cross-breeding certain parental lines) and finally, we operate jointly with East Malling and have a very large breeding programme for raspberries and blackberries geared toward the home garden market. The difference is precisely this: We bring our expertise and our own ideas, we select together with our English colleagues, but with a specific focus on garden benefits; and ultimately, Lubera can bring results exclusively on the garden market worldwide

How long does it take to breed a new variety?

Oh, you are addressing a difficult issue: Breeding is very, very slow. Generally one breeding cycle takes 5 to 20 years; breeding an apple takes 12 to 20 years. If you try to newly breed recessive characteristics into the varieties, this time frame can double. Breeding takes patience and more patience.


But then you must have to wait forever for the results!
But now if you start early enough and keep at it. Patience AND continuity are most important. And then eventually source of innovation bubbles up and everyone wonders how it is possible to bring so many new varieties on the market every year. This is how it is possible: because we started early, actually before the foundation of my company, and because we have stayed focused

What is your relationship to genetic engineering and to genetically modified plants?

We do not use methods beyond the “normal” cross-breeding that actively intervene with the genome, change it, and enrich it or whatever. 

Is that a response of faith or is that an answer driven by the market response, in which there is no acceptance for genetic engineering?

Both. There is in fact, in Central Europe and beyond, no acceptance for this and certainly not in edible plants. But then there is also the response of faith, however less ideologically influenced, as you might imagine: properties that could be introduced artificially generally have a relatively simple structure and are thus less stable. Consequently, those introduced resistance properties can be broken very quickly, which makes them worth little if anything at all. But most of all: OUR goal is to breed new plants that are different; our plants should be unique and taste better; they should offer surprises and be more resistant and easier to cultivate. Genetic engineering offers only variants that are eternally the same. And THAT is not very interesting to us and our customers.



I will now ask the original question again: Why do you breed new varieties and why do you make this gigantic effort?
So now I'm warmed up and the answer is easier: First, again: because it's fun and a joy to me and my staff. Second, because it obviously makes our customers happy; we are fortunate to feel this quite well through our internet sales channel! Third: because we thereby make ourselves incomparable with our own range of plants. And fourth, because we started early and stuck with it. Time and patience are the most important aspects in a breeding programme.


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