Every lettuce that you buy in an American supermarket today can likely be traced to the work of ARS plant breeders.
Best known of the ARS lettuces is Salinas, a crisp-textured, attractively shaped variety that became a classic soon after it was introduced to growers in 1975.
Developed at Salinas, California, by ARS plant breeder Edward J. Ryder, this cultivar arrived at markets with less crushing and bruising than other icebergs of its time. And, compared to other icebergs, Salinas had the highest level of resistance to tip-burn disease. Tipburn causes leaf edges to brown and die. That makes the lettuce vulnerable to attack by slime-producing bacteria and fungi.
In the years since Salinas' debut, breeders at vegetable seed companies have produced new, Salinas-derived cultivars with improvements such as resistance to additional diseases.
Ryder also has fine-tuned the original. His Salinas 88, offered to seed companies and growers in 1988, possesses all the attributes of the famous parent plus resistance to lettuce mosaic virus disease. The disease causes an unattractive mosaic pattern of dark and light green on leaves of infected plants and reduces yields.
Today, Salinas and its progeny are the most widely planted iceberg lettuces in the Salinas valley, the world's foremost lettuce-growing region. The variety and its spin-offs bring about $300 million a year.
Farmers in other parts of California and in Arizona, New Mexico, and several foreign countries—including England, Spain, Israel, France, Sweden, Finland, Australia, and Japan—also raise these lettuces. -- By Marcia Wood, ARS.
"Salinas Stands Lettuce Industry on Its Head" was published in the April 1995 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.