Greenhouses, sheds, laboratories, warehouses. And endless trial fields. Enkhuizen and the surrounding area are being built up by seed companies from the Netherlands and abroad. Once upon a time, the IJsselmeer city flourished because of the herring fishery. The same is now also happening because of seed companies. Enkhuizen and the surrounding area is now called Seed Valley.
Almost all seed companies that are established here - such as Enza Zaden, Syngenta and Monsanto - invest millions of euros in housing development and rebuilding.
Enkhuizen is the nursery of all kinds of new vegetable species. Because there is rarely any frost and relatively much light, the area has traditionally been very suitable for growing vegetables. Whoever sells tomatoes, lettuce or broccoli in the store is pretty much guaranteed that the vegetable is grown from seeds from the breeding companies in North Holland North.
The vegetable seeds developed in the Netherlands are used all over the world. Almost 85% of the entire seed production is sold abroad. With a wide range: one vegetable grows well in the tropics, whereas other seeds are for vegetables that thrive in cold regions.
The optimism among entrepreneurs is great to see. For example, there is no fear of an Amazon or Uber-like party that wants to disturb the market. The seed industry entrepreneurs - both family companies and subsidiaries of multinationals - can invest heavily because they have confidence in the future. And because they earn a lot of money, of course.
Race against the clock
There are hardly any newcomers in vegetable breeding. The top ten companies have stayed the same for years now. If the seed companies have to fear someone, it's each other. It's a continuous race: the first party to bring a new crop or vegetable with new properties to market pretty much owns the market. Working together on research and development is out of the question. There is a partnership - Seed Valley Foundation - but this organization mainly focuses on labor market conditions or promotion of the sector. What happens in the individual laboratories, remains in the individual laboratories.
'Our most important task is to reduce the time to develop new varieties or properties', says director Peter Acda (54) of the Swiss-Chinese multinational Syngenta. These days, this takes about ten to twelve years. 'We want to reduce the lead time to five to eight years.'
Syngenta is leading in broccoli and cauliflower. Acda claims that Syngenta Enkhuizen is the largest center in the world for vegetable seeds. They have 550 employees, and 60 positions are vacant. These are plant breeder positions, but also vocational level positions on the land. Acda: 'Working outside is not popular. We're now employing temporary agency workers.'
In order to make the necessary acceleration possible, Syngenta will invest more than € 36 million in research and development in Enkhuizen in the coming years. Think of new technology in greenhouses and cultivation rooms or the use of robots and cultures without daylight, so that seeds can grow faster through the right combinations of different colors of light.
Family business invests € 50 million
Not only Syngenta invests millions in Enkhuizen, family business Enza Zaden also has big plans. From his office just behind the dike in Enkhuizen, director and owner Jaap Mazereeuw (46) - grandson of founder Jacob - points towards the already completely new building. A new lab will be realized here in 2018. The head office will follow afterwards: 150 workstations will be added. Mazereeuw estimates that his company will invest € 50 million in the Netherlands alone over the next two years.
Enza Zaden (Enza stands for De Enkhuizer Zaadwinkel) employs 650 people in the town, half of whom work in research and development. The company converted € 264 million last year and spends 30% of this on R&D. According to the map that is prominently displayed at the Mazereeuw office, the company is active all over the world and expands 10% every year. Each country needs different seeds, tailored to their local climate and growing conditions. Enkhuizen remains the center. Here all seeds are checked for diseases, weight, color, germination and other properties.
Optimism and prosperity are aplenty, but will Seed Valley still be flourishing in ten years' time? Enza Zaden and Syngenta wholeheartedly believe so. According to the two multinationals, the demand for vegetables will only increase. Mazereeuw: 'We supply 1,200 varieties within thirty different types of vegetable crops. I believe people will always want to eat fresh vegetables. In fact, because of the ever-growing world population, demand will only increase. We are health suppliers.'
Everything revolves around the question of who will be best able to apply new technology in the coming years. This may well be newcomers, says Peter van der Toorn, who is responsible for new seed trials at Syngenta. 'With new technology, newcomers can gain market share in certain foreign markets. This is a risk for us.'
The traditional companies can therefore not stay behind. For example, they use 'digital phenotyping'. Instead of a breeder who takes notes, here robots and cameras map the color, shape, taste or disease of a plant. And by analyzing large amounts of genetic data, companies can quickly find the ideal combination of properties for a new crop.
Light, light and more light
A new generation of entrepreneurs is working in a small hall at the edge of the city. Wessel van Paassen is a young entrepreneur (26) who is obsessed with light and lighting. Together with lighting manufacturer Hortilux Schréder, he develops systems that can test the effect of different combinations of light colors on plant germination and growth. Together with a robot programmer friend, he develops the software and technology that is required for daylight breeding. The duo works for clients including lettuce farmers, who's aim is to grow lettuce on water without much additives.
But the breeders are also interested in Van Paassen's systems. If he succeeds in growing their seeds faster with his mix of green, red and blue light, he will gain many important clients.
Van Paassen is a son of Seed Valley. He was able to take over his father's chrysanthemum business, but he chose to pursue new technology that growers, like his father, could use to grow smarter vegetables and flowers. "Growers are reluctant, but there's really a change happening," says Van Paassen enthusiastically. 'Customers are arriving from everywhere.'
His company Green Simplicity now has a turnover of three tons. That's a little grump compared to Enza Zaden and Monsanto, but Van Paassen is also aware: Seed Valley is fertile soil for new seeds.
source: Financieel Dagblad