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Stories - 15-07-2021

Investing in seed quality

Breeding for sustainability is at the heart of Rijk Zwaan’s approach to developing new and improved vegetable seeds. Seeds are at the beginning of the food chain and we recognise our contribution towards ensuring global food security. However, the importance of seed quality is often underestimated.

Caption: The seed quality centre and glasshouses in De Lier, The Netherlands

There are four pillars of seed quality: germination performance, seed health, genetic purity, and seed purity. Unless seeds perform well against all four of these aspects, they are not released for sale.

Managing seed quality is a rigorous and thorough process that involves maintaining the quality of commercial stock seeds and breeding stock lines to ensure they remain free from disease and able to germinate effectively.

Account Manager, James Bertram who works closely with plant raisers and customers on seed quality issues, comments “Every single seed we produce is sent to The Netherlands for centralised quality control - cleaning, testing and quality management. It is an expensive process, but this shows in the high quality of our seeds and in our reputation for quality throughout the market.”

Caption: Seed cleaning

Rijk Zwaan seed quality standards include testing across four key areas before seeds can be sold:

  1. Genetic purity, to validate that a seed is ‘true to type’ and each one will provide the same variety. We remove rogue seeds including off-types, fast bolting and any inbred seeds.
  2. Germination, to ensure plants are healthy, productive and germinate at the same time to optimise yields. We remove those with low vigour and low germination. We comply with Rijk Zwaan internal specifications, as well as the European Seed Association (ESA) standards.
  3. Seed purity to remove any broken seeds, pills or pellets (an inert non-reactive/non-toxic clay), and any weed or mixed seeds from batches. Pills or pellets ensure seeds are uniform in size, robust, machine-friendly for processing and dense so that lighter seeds such as celery, don’t blow away. The pills or pellets can also include crop protection such as fungicides or insecticides.
  4. Seed health refers to statistical probability-based sampling, where Rijk Zwaan tests to find any seed containing fungus, bacteria, viruses or insects. Many diseases are found on seed coats or within fruit flesh, but disease can also be found within the embryo of seeds. Testing is difficult and consists of opening the seed, breaking down the embryo and testing the contents. Seeds tested are inevitably destroyed during this process.

Caption: Inside the seed quality centre

James adds “All of Rijk Zwaan’s seeds grown around the globe, are sent to The Netherlands for quality control. Because we remove all the seed that is not up to our standards, what we do sell is of a very high quality. We have a reputation for quality and it is expensive to maintain that level of quality.”

“What growers buy from Rijk Zwaan is more than just a seed,” James says “You’re not just buying a seed. You’re buying genetics and security backed by expertise from people that can help you on the ground as well.”

In 2018, Rijk Zwaan invested in a new Seed Quality Centre (SQC) in De Lier, The Netherlands that significantly increased the capacity for managing quality, and is a centre for ongoing research and development (R&D). The SQC is a combination of state-of-the-art laboratories, modern glasshouses, and high tech climate cells, staffed by specialists in seed quality, phytopathology, microbiology, and laboratory technicians, all working to ensure quality outcomes are realised. 

Caption: Inside the seed quality centre with Anita Olsthoorn, Assistant Germination Testing and Seed Analysis

To learn more about Rijk Zwaan’s seed quality processes or to arrange a tour of the Seed Quality Centre (for clients visiting The Netherlands), please contact us.