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Remzi Doğan and Ahmet Şahin

Three pepper types, two colleagues, one goal

One has been working in vegetable breeding for more than 25 years, while the other brings fresh energy straight from his master’s degree. Together, Remzi Doğan and Ahmet Şahin want to launch new pepper varieties in three different types on the Turkish market by 2027.

When Ahmet Şahin is hell-bent on something, he can be very persevering. That’s something Remzi Doğan, head of vegetable breeding in Türkiye and his current manager, has also learned. The recent university graduate had just started his first job after completing his master’s degree and knew that KWS had a new breeding program for vegetables in Türkiye. Just a few months before, in November 2020, Remzi Doğan had started establishing our tomato, cucumber and pepper breeding activities in Antalya from scratch. He was looking for a pepper breeder – and Ahmet Şahin, who was particularly attracted by the idea of working in research at KWS, was interested in the position. He wrote several e-mails to Remzi Doğan, with whom he had been in contact since his studies.

That perseverance paid off: Remzi Doğan added Ahmet Şahin to his breeding team in August 2021 as assistant tomato breeder. Then, Ahmet was promoted to Pepper Breeder in January 2022, showing outstanding work in and insight into breeding and genetics in a short time.

“For me, it’s a perfect fit,” says Ahmet Şahin. Admittedly, peppers were a new field for him: His master’s degree thesis was on the genetics and pre-breeding of eggplants, and before he came to KWS he worked as assistant tomato breeder for his first employer in the private sector. “But no matter what the crop is, genetics are always vital.” After his first year in breeding peppers, he had gotten the hang of things. “With Remzi, I’ve improved my skills very quickly. I feel that we can keep on growing together.”

Remzi Doğan set up the station in Antalya. It is currently being expanded with new greenhouses (pictured: farm manager Fehmi Akinci).

Selection is carried out every six months for traits such as yield, quality and disease resistance.

“People give you confidence”

He is thus a good example of a statement that Remzi Doğan considers crucial in building his team: “What counts first and foremost for me is someone’s fundamental attitude. I can impart knowledge – but without the right attitude, that’s useless.” At the same time, he praises Ahmet Şahin’s fine start to his professional career. “We obtain up-to-date knowledge from academic research in this way. The result is a fertile combination of the latest findings and experience.”

KWS’ pepper breeding – like its cucumber and tomato breeding – began in Antalya in November 2020. Remzi Doğan had also been working for Bayer and BASF in this Turkish city on the Mediterranean for 16 years at the time. His main focus was cucumbers. Nevertheless, there were several reasons why he moved: He had known Léon Broers, the new Head of the Business Unit Vegetables, since 2002 from a lecture at Wageningen University, and he had already worked with his predecessor Paul Degreef, and also with Coert Engels, Global Head of Breeding at KWS Vegetables. “Knowing people gives you the confidence to make such a move.”

“We can keep on growing together.”

Ahmet Şahin

Then there was the prospect of being the founding father of KWS Vegetables in Türkiye and building a team from scratch. Between joining KWS as a one-man show and today, Remzi Doğan provided the infrastructure – finding suitable land including greenhouses, cultivation facilities and office space – and expanded the team in tomato, cucumber and pepper breeding to its current number of 18 employees.

It is hardly surprising that KWS chose Antalya. The city is regarded as an ideal location, with 90 percent of all greenhouse crops in the country being located there, notes Remzi Doğan. That is because the region offers good climatic conditions both in the lowlands and the adjacent mountains. As a result, production is possible eleven months of the year. “That also saves energy because there’s no need for heating.” The good air connections to Europe are an additional advantage.

In the first year – 2021Remzi Doğan faced the task of conducting a market analysis at the new location for vegetable breeding in Türkiye, and Ahmet Şahin continued that job after being promotion at the company to Pepper Breeder in January 2022.

Remzi Doğan (center) and Ahmet Şahin (right) do the first transplanting under real conditions in the greenhouses of Ahmet’s father (left).

Breeding of three pepper varieties

As a result, breeding programs for the varieties Kapia (Red fleshy pepper), Carliston (Turkish pointed pepper) and Sivri (sweet-hot) emerged. They have the greatest market potential in Türkiye and are exported to various markets like Germany, where there are many Turkish citizens. Other growing regions for the Kapia variety are the Balkans in Europe and Morocco in North Africa.

“The challenge will be to get into these markets with our own varieties,” says Ahmet Şahin. He cites the example of Kapia, which has been the undisputed leader among the most popular varieties for growers since 2008. KWS’ breeding program must therefore deliver the same quality as its competitors and stand out with at least one additional trait. “We want to sell our first varieties in 2027 or 2028,” is how Ahmet Şahin outlines the first milestone. The aim is for the name KWS to appear on the list of popular pepper varieties in 10 years’ time. The personal goal he has set himself is to discover novel traits or different new pepper segments in the market.

Kapia, Carliston and Sivri are the names of the pepper varieties grown in Türkiye.

Until then, the aim is to press ahead with the breeding activities that were commenced in 2021: Two years ago, Remzi Doğan developed the first populations, which have since been selected every six months for phenotypic traits, namely yield, quality and resistance to diseases. “The laboratory in Einbeck was a great help to us with its molecular markers,” says the head of vegetable breeding in Türkiye. The first experimental hybrids – with the sixth generation of their parental lines – were harvested this summer and they have now been sown for the first time in September under real conditions. Remzi Doğan adds: “We’ll be able to assess their performance at the end of the year.”

The work currently involves several hundred variants per pepper variety, i.e. a total of 600. After the best have been selected, fewer than 50 per variety will be left next year, after which the aim is to have three to four varieties on the list the year after next. “After that, we’ll then be able to market one or two of them,” says Remzi Doğan.

It runs in the family

For transplanting these varieties under real test conditions for the first time and subsequent selection, Ahmet Şahin has enlisted the aid of a very close relative to provide greenhouses: his own father, who has been a pepper grower in Antalya for the past 10 years. It seems that the 28-year-old was born for a career in vegetable breeding.

His father currently relies on the established varieties from competitors. Anyone who knows his son’s perseverance is certain that he will do his best to change that. “In three years, my father will hopefully be using our finished hybrids,” says Ahmet Şahin with a grin. |

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