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Dr. An Michiels, head of R&D at Hazera Seeds

"The local growers are our compass"

"We develop new varieties on the basis of natural diversity through seed breeding, so innovation is literally in our genes," says Dr. An Michiels, head of the Research & Development department at Hazera Seeds. Recently, two new screening and testing stations were opened in Mexico and Turkey. Together with a new location in Warmenhuizen they are her responsibility. "The local growers are our compass and through close cooperation with them in their own region we can choose the best properties that are tailored to their needs, which is a great advantage."

Dr. An Michiels at the R & D station in Warmenhuizen.

Hazera is part of Limagrain Vegetable Seeds, the second largest seed breeding company in the world. An Michiels: "We have offices in numerous places, including the new test fields in Turkey and Mexico, and it is important to be close to the customer. Growers in Turkey and Mexico have different needs than growers in Northern Europe or Asia. They know the local climate, the diseases, and they know the soil composition for certain vegetables. Through cooperating closely with these growers from a branch in their region, we can quickly exchange information and respond efficiently and adequately to developments. They are our top priority. Think global, act local. This is our motto for a reason."

Development through selection
An Michiels is internationally responsible at Hazera for the permanent development of the seed breeding department. "It is my job to bring teams together and pool their energy and knowledge in such a way that we can develop the best products. Our customers are always central to us. In the first place, these are the growers. Of course we keep the consumer and the supermarkets in the back of our minds. Because it's in this chain, from farmer to fork, that it all happens. The farmer wants the largest possible harvest and preferably no diseases."

To the question 'How?' She answers: ‚ÄĚThis is only possible on the basis of selection. We look for the natural resistance in crops and crossbreed them. The rapidly growing knowledge in this area has helped us tremendously. Of course we keep an eye on the harvest. Healthy plants that yield a lot are essential for the grower, the chain and the consumer. If all these factors are correct, these plants are used for seed production."

Special characteristics
The product has to be harvested from the land and is ultimately transported to the supermarket. Special characteristics such as robustness are needed to prevent damage and deterioration. A great deal of attention is paid to this during breeding. An Michiels: "The supermarket only sells vegetables that look fresh and beautiful and - perhaps even more important - taste good. We are the source and it is nice to see your own vegetables on the shelves. You always come across people who have bought or eaten our products, and we learn from their experiences. I want the best for my family, my children and myself, and good vegetables contribute to our health."

Climate as main challenge
An Michiels thinks that climate change is the biggest challenge for the future. "Everyone in our industry sees it happening. It has a huge impact on the way we will work in the future, so we continue to innovate. We quickly pick up new ideas for our products and varieties to be able to respond to these changes. New diseases arise and we are confronted with more extreme rainfall and drought. We try to take this into account during breeding, and it is important to support the sustainable development of vegetable crops and in this way limit the use of chemicals as much as possible."

Are there other ways to achieve quick results in this area?

"Fortunately, we can share unique characteristics through collaborations with other seed companies. One company thinks this, the other one that...It works well and speeds up the breeding process. Science also plays a role in this. In the end the consumer benefits from this collaboration."

Try vegetables yourself at the International Open Days
Do you want to see the results of all the R&D efforts? Then visit the International Open Days from 25 to 27 September in Warmenhuizen. A wide range of outdoor vegetables will be presented on a large field so visitors can get acquainted with the latest varieties and innovations. Taste the results yourself through snacks and dishes that are freshly prepared with the vegetables from the field.

About Dr. An Michiels
The Belgian-born An Michiels has - in addition to her experience in agriculture - a scientific background. She graduated in Leuven as a molecular biologist with chicory as subject. When she was 27, she went to America for six months for a postgraduate study. She eventually stayed 14 years. "My postgraduate study changed into a PhD research in biotechnology at the university," she says. For the past six years she worked for the Dutch company Keygene in Rockville, Maryland where, as CEO, she founded the American subsidiary of Keygene. An was already familiar with Limagrain, the parent company of Hazera. This cooperative, which is owned by almost two thousand growers in France, is in fact one of Keygene's shareholders. She worked for Bayer for five years between her positions at Keygene and Hazera.

Working at Hazera: highest technological level with a family feeling

An has worked at Hazera Seeds for almost a year now and enjoys her job. "I grew up in a grower's family where everything revolved around tomatoes. As a child you get to experience how a strong plant that bears fruit all season comes from a small tomato seed. So I know this world inside and out. There is also a family feeling, and in the technological field we operate as a company at the highest level, but in the end it is all about the people who work there. The key to Hazera's success is without a doubt the enthusiasm, dedication and talent of our employees."

For more information:
Hazera Seeds
Tel: +972 8850 8815
Fax: +972 8850 2442

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