Jun 13, 2023
Enza Zaden celebrates breeding success stories

Since 1938, Enza Zaden has been expanding the reach of its seed breeding to include countries all over the world.

Eighty-five years later, the company employs more than 2,000 people, and reinvests 30% of sales into research and development annually. In the U.S., Mexico and Canada, Enza Zaden is best known for protected culture tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and controlled environment agriculture (CEA) lettuce; as well as open field lettuce, spinach, and newer programs in seedless watermelon, onions and more.

Luis Maas Enza Zaden
Luis Maas is senior station/research and development manager for Enza Zaden USA. Photos courtesy of Enza Zaden.

For North America, research stations in San Juan Bautista California, Myakka City, Florida and Culiacan, Mexico, ensure regionally adapted genetics. Luis Maas, senior station/research and development manager for Enza Zaden USA, is building on a long-standing mission to play a dynamic role in improving access to healthy food. He has a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics and more than a decade of U.S. and global breeding experience, and is responsible for the operational and strategic direction of the North American research organization.

Collaboration and insight

Although breeding technologies and resources are fairly consistent across seed companies, capacity to deliver commercial products at scale is affected by organizational structure and corporate focus, Maas said in a news release. Enza Zaden’s relatively flat structure enables breeders, sales, marketing and product development to collaborate and take ownership, while gaining continual insight into grower needs and the markets to be served, according to the release.

While a similarly empowered research and development approach may also be the objective of other companies, it’s easier to realize the goal in an organization like Enza Zaden.

“We’re both pioneers and innovators in plant breeding, and as a team, we consistently focus on the right products for the right conditions, here in North America and around the world,” Maas said in the release.

North American success and beyond

Some recent North American successes for the company include a seedless watermelon program that in less than five years has produced top varieties for all major production regions, a hybrid processing tomato developed in less than six years that boasts higher fruit quality, better yield and better disease resistance; and two long day red onions that are coming on strong in the North American market.

Globally, the North American research stations have also produced successes including Taila, a yellow onion that is rapidly raising the bar of quality and root disease resistance in Brazil; Red Coach, a red onion that has become one of the most widely cultivated in West Africa; and Iguazu, a red pepper now widely cultivated across Central and South America.

seeds-Enza Zaden
Enza Zaden’s research in the U.S. and Mexico has led to the release of numerous varieties suited for North American production.

HREZ, Enza Zaden’s game-changing collection of tomato varieties with High Resistance (HR) to Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus (ToBRFV), provides another example that hits home for tomato breeders. Along with strict phytosanitary measures, high resistance was identified as a key tool to overcoming the devasting effect of the highly transmissible virus. Less than six years after discovering a resistance gene in its own gene bank, Enza Zaden introduced HREZ varieties in all significant tomato types.
The compressed timeline during which Enza Zaden was able to deliver high resistance has enabled the global tomato industry to reset with confidence.

“Enza Zaden provides a rewarding environment where top agriculture professionals can pursue their goals of better products while playing a hands-on role in enhancing the food system,” Maas said in the release. “From the (European Union) to Africa, Central and South America, Australia, New Zealand, India and Southeast Asia and of course North America, we’re breeding to feed the world, and we believe in doing things right.”

Top photo: Enza Zaden has North American research stations in Culiacán, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa; in Myakka City, Florida; and San Juan Bautista, California, pictured here.

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