Syngenta Flowers has unveiled a major overhaul of its best-selling pansy varieties. The company’s innovative Delta Pro series represents a new class of hyper-precise pansies for spring and autumn sales, explicitly designed to simplify planning, maximise profitability and minimise the environmental impact.
Pansies are a quintessentially cool season crop. So, propagation for autumn sales, which occurs in mid and late summer when the weather is still warm, can be challenging. At the same time, steering and scheduling a pansy crop in up-and-down spring weather is equally easier said than done.
Robbin van den Berg, product manager of EAME at Syngenta, says that Europe’s 2023 Spring Pansy season was off to a moody start, with a few sunny days interspersed with mostly cold and rainy ones. “It took too long for temperatures to feel like spring. Chilly conditions prevailed and had many growers eager for a persistent warm pattern to develop as the spring pansy season is gradually lengthening, beginning earlier each year. Sometimes, pansies hit retail shelves in week eight or earlier. This spring, many spring bedding producers and garden centres were fully stocked and ready to go, but bad weather meant business was slow, particularly in the day-to-day trade.”
Looking back on the past three years, Van Berg references the bumper demand for pansies worldwide, with COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home policies sending demand to outstrip supply by a wide margin.
Over the first four months of 2022, the pansy industry experienced higher-than-usual sales. Van den Berg says, “My feeling is that last year’s yields have been the major factor in planning the 2023 pansy crop.
However, 2022 also brought challenges such as skyrocketing commodity prices, oversupply, inflation, and a hampering demand in the year’s second half, with growers being cautious with spending their money. Industry-wide, there’s an overall consensus that the 2022/2023 pansy seed and plug plant sales decreased between 5 to 10 per cent in volume within Europe.”
As growing pansies leaves a lot to chance, Van den Berg explains how Syngenta’s main aim in retooling its Delta series was to take the guesswork out. “More than 25 years ago, Syngenta launched the first F1 hybrid series of pansies, Delta. Initially, it met with scepticism as green professionals questioned if this more expensive pansy would be able to beat the competition from the open-pollinated varieties, the cheaper alternative that dominated the market back then. Today, Delta continues to be the top-selling pansy series worldwide and building on its success is its upgrade, Delta Pro.”
Its ‘Produced for Precision’ tagline explains how Delta Pro is designed for the narrowest flowering window between colours, making it the most programmable large-flowered pansy series for both spring and autumn sales.
Van den Berg notes, “Delta Pro unburdens growers as it allows them to predictably deliver a full-colour range of plants to the mass market and local retailers at one time. Extensive trialling in Europe, North America and Asia proved how 80 per cent of colours in Delta Pro flower within five days in the autumn season. The entire series flowers within a 10-day window, compared to 14–21 days for competition. What’s more is that the refreshed series combines a uniform and compact growth habit, fast finishing times and exceptional basal branching that quickly fills pots before putting on colour.
“When opting for Delta Pro, a grower opts for the perfect pansy that will thrive under all weather conditions and never disappoint, not in spring or autumn.”
The single-best Delta Pro event for 2024 happens in the Netherlands when Apeldoorn-based Kwekerij J. Albers will host Syngenta’s Spring Trials for the second consecutive year
Delta Pro offers 16 colours, of which the seven solid ones aka clear-faced pansies – in different hues of yellow, blue, orange, white or violet are popular with landscapers who use them for colour blocking.
The nine blotched or speciality types are ideal for filling window planters and patio containers, allowing consumers to appreciate the pansy face up close.
Van den Berg elaborates, “To complement the Delta Pro range, Syngenta continues to offer some special and unique colours under the brand name Delta. Some Delta have a slightly wider flowering window, while seedling vigour can vary but deliver top performance in each colour class. Delta Pro has no ifs and buts, living up to all of the grower’s expectations. On average, a commercial pansy grower will select between 7 to 10 colours from the Delta Pro series. And growers can be assured that when potting them in week x, they will be ready for shipping in week y.”
Delta Pro did not happen overnight and resulted from a lengthy breeding, selection and trialling process that began ten years ago. “Delta Pro followed the traditional path of plant breeding focused on identifying and introducing desirable traits by crossing. So, it takes many steps to obtain a stable F1 hybrid eventually,” explains Van den Berg, adding that Delta Pro met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction following extensive trailing within growers’ greenhouses worldwide.
“In places where Delta, InspirePlus and Matrix are the standard in Viola x wittrockiana, the Delta Pro message has been heard with growers telling us that Delta Pro does what Syngenta told them it would do. Standing out prominently is Delta Pro Red With Blotch. In pansies, red never has been an easy colour as red pansies tend to stretch and fade into a slightly dirty brown. Grower testimonials indicate that Delta Pro Red With Blotch is an entirely exceptional achievement as it fills pots quickly and retains its colour well. Delta Pro Clear Orange marks another improvement. Orange pansies also have a tendency to stretch and sometimes decolourise. With Delta Pro Clear Orange, there is no loss of pigmentation, and the variety boasts robust basal branching. On Facebook, a Danish grower touted the variety as the best orange pansy in 20 years.”
Asked about the on-trend colours in pansies, Van den Berg says that the 16 different Delta Pro colours represent between 85 to 95 per cent of the market demand. “Yellows, whites, and blues are integral to the colour mix. The colour range also depends on the ordering party. Traditional wholesale will perhaps seek the more unusual colours while fresh, vivid colours in retail are a prerequisite to encourage impulse purchase among consumers.”
Van den Berg says Delta Pro is a prime example of a grower and environmentally friendly pansy, helping to create a sustainable industry that meets future challenges.
“Thanks to its optimal basal branching, the series hardly requires PGRs if growing cool, and we think that in plant breeding, this is the way to go forward. All colours have identical production cultures, so if conditions are warmer or darker than wished, PGRs can be applied evenly.”
In making Delta Pro ready for the market, there have been criteria to check multifold through the different stages of the upgrading process. These include uniformity, tight flowering windows, transportability – with compact peduncles helping ensure the safe arrival of flowers after transport – shelf life, significant bloom size and a well-developed root system. The latter ensures that plants can tolerate stress, minimising the risk of dreaded enemies such as Phytium, Botrytis, Phytophthora and the fungi Anthracnose, Alternaria and Thielaviopsis basicola — the causal agent of black root rot.
The latter infects a wide range of hosts and should not be underestimated — the sources of how T. basicola may help spread diseases include untreated soil or peat moss.
Interestingly, in contrast with Europe, where pansies typically belong to the spring bedding category, most American pansy sales happen in the autumn. Van den Berg comments. “There are nine different climate zones in the USA, with pansies being the superstar patio plant in the southern parts of the country with a significant spike in demand for fiery oranges and yellow in the run-up to Halloween. In the Northern States, such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and Maine, spring pansies also grow increasingly popular with consumers.
While 2023 marked Delta Pro’s official launch and extensive trials at growers worldwide, in 2023/2024, Syngenta Flowers will ramp up the production and sales of seeds and plug plants.
In Europe, seedling versus plug production is fifty-fifty, with large-scale producers mostly growing pansy plants from seed. In the USA, almost all plants are grown directly from seed, either by growers or through liner producers.
Van den Berg stresses that Delta Pro delivers industry-leading germination and uniformity. With over 40 years of experience producing pansy seed in Europe, Central America and South America, the company understands that a reliable supply of quality seed is the foundation for a profitable pansy programme. Germination rates always lie above 90 per cent.
Over the coming months, Delta Pro will continue to make its journey to international trade shows and the 2024 CAST at Syngenta’s branch in Gilroy, California.
However, the single-best Delta Pro event for 2024 happens in the Netherlands when Apeldoorn-based Kwekerij J. Albers will host Syngenta’s Spring Trials for the second consecutive year.
Van den Berg invites pansy professionals to mark their agenda for week nine.
Pansy and Viola stats
With 1.5 billion units sold annually, the modern pansy and Viola cornuta occupy an outstanding number one position in the world’s top three most traded and grown bedding plants. According to the latest AIPH stats, the global production area of the plant spans 2,000ha under glasshouse or in the open.
Some green professionals sustain that Europe grows between 500-600 million pots annually, destined for the European market. Asia and the Middle East combined produce an estimated 300 million pots.
This article was first featured in FloraCulture International in September 2023.