Seed production epicentre

The Dutch are the world’s largest seed exporters, and for 400 years ‘Seed Valley’, just north of Amsterdam, has been the epicentre of production. At the heart of Seed Valley is Enza Zaden, a family-run company that has become a global concern and which has been applying new technology to the traditional discipline for some seven decades. “In the 17th century, Amsterdam was the centre of the world. Seed Valley was the supplier of Amsterdam’s vegetables, beans and so on, which were transported by boat down to the city,” says Jaap Mazereeuw, managing director of Enza Zaden. “All the knowledge is in the genetics and the seed is the package,” he continues. “It has to do with yield consistency, reliability, and consistency against environmental stress. Every market has its own needs. We spend a lot of research on resisting pests and disease. In Holland, growers strive to minimise the use of pesticides. We do a lot on resistance breeding to improve product quality and prevent crop loss.”

Enza Zaden, in short

Jacob Mazereeuw founded Enza Zaden in 1938 in Enkhuizen, a small town a short drive from Amsterdam. The first greenhouse in which Jacob’s son Piet began breeding still sits on the site of what is now a global enterprise with 1,500 staff and some of the world’s best seed-breeding talent. In 1959 his son Piet took over, and today it is run by Jacob’s grandson, Jaap. 

For its first 20 years, Enza Zaden focused solely on producing and selling seeds, but in the early 1960s Piet began breeding schemes and soon made a breakthrough with the highly popular Extase variety of tomato. Today, the firm spends about one third of its turnover on research and development. It sticks to ‘classical breeding’ – that is, breeding together two or more varieties to try and extract something new – without genetic modifications. This is combined this with modern, highly advanced technology to make the breeding processes a lot faster and more efficient.

Its main breeding programmes include tomato, cucumber, sweet pepper and leafy green vegetables. Varieties are bred for taste, disease resistance, higher yield and different climatic and soil demands, and the firm has around 1,000 different varieties. It has subsidiaries on every continent and seed production sites around the world. It was a founder of the Seed Valley partnership of horticulture firms, which focuses on educational programmes, on guiding government policy and advises Dutch academic institutions on the talent needs of this high-tech industry.

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