In August, Anna Ball — president and CEO at Ball Horticultural Company — and her daughter, Susannah Ball, took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Ball Helix Central R&D Center. The complex is currently under construction at the company’s home-office campus in West Chicago, Illinois.
Great science produces great plants, according to Matt Mouw, chief technology officer at Ball— and the company’s new research and development building “will help us enhance and accelerate great science.”
Ball Helix is the division name for Ball Horticultural’s multi-disciplinary team of plant scientists. These are experts in everything from molecular and cell biology to analytical chemistry and intellectual property. The research division works closely with Ball’s breeding and production partners to help develop new products and meet ongoing challenges in horticulture and floriculture.
For example, a recent breakthrough was the completion of a genome sequence for the popular groundcover and houseplant Impatiens walleriana. Global sales of “busy lizzie” have suffered over the past decade owing to an epidemic of the fungal disease, Impatiens Downy Mildew (IMD). Thanks to the sequencing of the genome, which was accomplished in collaboration with the biotech company KeyGene, breeders at Ball Horticultural’s sister company PanAmerican Seed have already been able to develop new, mildew-resistant varieties (trademarked Beacon Impatiens).
The new facility, which replaces aging labs and greenhouses, will put Ball Helix in direct physical connection with stakeholders such as PanAmerican Seed and Ball FloraPlant. As a central hub for horticulture research it will also support Ball’s partnerships with research, breeding and production locations around the world.
Launched in 1905, Ball Horticultural Company has grown into a global family of companies that includes breeders, research and development teams, seed and vegetative producers, and distribution companies in 18 countries, on six continents. Among these operations is Ball SB, known to cut-flower growers as an innovative supplier of vegetative material.
Construction on the new facility is scheduled for completion by March 2021. Its state-of-the-art labs represent a very significant investment in the future of the industry. That investment accords with one of Ball Horticultural’s “Seeds of Success,” cited by Anna Ball at the groundbreaking ceremony: “Never sacrifice the long term for the short term.”
Bruce Wright is a contributing writer for Floral Management.