Last year the new crucifer breeding station in Warmenhuizen, The Netherlands opened. In total, the new station covers an area of ten hectares; making it larger than the old location in Tuitjenhorn.
‘Everything is new, with the most advanced technological features, including climate control in our greenhouses.’ Moreover, we have research facilities with state-of-the-art equipment. A major step forward therefore, for the employees too,’ according to Van Wijk. In this new premises in Warmenhuizen, the company will focus specifically on cabbage and radish seeds. ‘This station prepares us for the future,’ says breeding director Dr. Rik van Wijk.
Think global, act local
That’s Hazera’s philosophy. We operate globally, but have a strong connection to the local regions. This guarantees we are familiar with local practices when it comes to the cultivation of vegetables. We are in direct contact with the farmers and as a result, we know what’s important to them. We have about 35 hectares of test plots in a radius of about 20 kilometers.
On our test plots, we research the characteristics of, for instance, cauliflower. It’s very important for the breeder to have a practiced eye. What makes a cabbage attractive to consumers? First and foremost, it’s the taste. But the product also has to look good. In addition, there are other matters that are important to the farmers. Can the cabbages be cultivated well and reliably? What about harvesting, transport and how does it keep? We analyse all those things. We select the best characteristics. And we’re getting better and better at it. We don’t just look at the outside of the plant. Nowadays, we also look inside it. That may sound complicated, and it is, but knowledge in this area is increasing quickly. We are increasingly able to better understand which external characteristics are related to the plant’s DNA. The better and quicker you have insight into that, the better and quicker you’ll be able to develop new varieties.’
That is not all, though. Modern seed breeding requires a lot more. Seed breeder Van Wijk: ‘Local climate plays an important role in our research. We want seed that grows cabbages that are resistant to disease, drought, dampness and heat. By looking deeper and deeper into the plant, we get helpful information. Without modification. Everything is done based on selection.’
Van Wijk will be proud when this research will lead to farmers being able to make a decent living with Hazera seeds. ‘We do our part for quality, the grower adds his. And because we think locally, we can respond well to local issues. For instance, Central Europe requires different characteristics for a product than other regions. We take all that into account as we supply seeds all over the world.
The art of seed breeding requires a lot of patience, knowledge and skill. ‘Cabbage seeds require about fifty days to ripen. Then we need to harvest it, dry it and quickly deliver it for further testing. It’s all done by people. That won’t change anytime soon. However, computers have become increasingly important for gathering data. But even more important, is the analysis of that data. Hazera is at the top of this field and collaborates with other companies as well.
Although modern technology is essential for efficient operations and a high-quality product, some things do not change. Van Wijk: ‘Yes, that’s true. We don’t just work together with farmers and other companies, we work with nature itself as well. For instance, insects are very important for pollination and therefore seed production. We use bees and bumblebees, but flies too. That’s what makes this job so interesting.’