A visit to Rijk Zwaan Breeding Japan

In July 2018, family owned company Rijk Zwaan, based in De Lier (NL) with more than 30 subsidiaries worldwide, established a wholly owned subsidiary in Shibayama Town in Chiba, near Narita International Airport.

Curious to learn about the subsidiary’s ambitions and experiences to date, Denise Lutz, the newly appointed Agricultural Counsellor at the Netherlands Embassy in Tokyo, and her team paid a visit to Rijk Zwaan Breeding Japan K.K. on 9 September.

The team was met by Mr. Junji Kimbara, Managing Director of Rijk Zwaan Breeding Japan, who gave a presentation on their activities worldwide and in Japan, followed by a guided tour of their breeding station.

Japan is one of the important vegetable seed markets in the world, and is known for its good quality vegetables. The shift of eating habits to more Western food, easy access to the biggest airport in the nation, good access to public genetic resources and research, were the reasons for Rijk Zwaan to set up a wholly owned subsidiary in Chiba, which, with neighboring Ibaraki, account for 14% of vegetable production in Japan. It is also close to the large Tokyo metropolitan area, with its big consumption market.

Rijk Zwaan’s market share in the global vegetable seed  market is 9%, ranking in 4th place, following Vilmorin, Bayer, and Syngenta.

The company’s objective is to develop disease-resistant and high-yield varieties in a sustainable way for the benefit of the whole fresh produce chain, from growers, dealers/processors, and retail to consumers, taking climate change, demographic shift and consumer trends into consideration. Primary targets are high-tech growers in Japan, but small to mid-sized growers are also customers.

The subsidiary is mainly engaged in R&D of vegetable seeds for the Japanese market. For R&D purposes, but also to showcase the latest commercial varieties to seed buyers, the subsidiary is renting 6 ha patches of farmland, of which 2.5 ha is for open field crops, and 40 a for crops in greenhouse cultivation. Besides conventional Japanese greenhouses, the subsidiary will also operate a more high-tech greenhouse, the construction of which will be completed in later next year.

As Japan has a different climate, cultivation system and market demands, it is necessary to have a research/demonstration farm in Japan. At Rijk Zwaan, breeding is done by conventional crossing. Their varieties have special traits which are appreciated by customers. The company deals with 400 varieties of lettuce and 200 varieties of tomatoes.

Mr. Kimbara: “When creating a new variety, which can take 6-16 years, crossing and selection are key, taking into account natural diversity, high-tech research, and selection and real-life conditions. For high quality seeds, specific production facilities, intensive quality control and planning and logistics are of importance. All seeds produced are sent to Rijk Zwaan Head Office in De Lier for quality control regarding genetic purity, health and germination.

  • At the entrance of Rijk Zwaan Breeding Japan Office (Center: Mr. Junji Kimbara, Managing Director, Rijk Zwaan Breeding, Second from right: Ms. Denise Lutz, Agricultural Counsellor of the Netherlands Embassy in Tokyo

  • Demo field of various lettuce varieties

  • At a tomato greenhouse

Rijk Zwaan has been developing new, innovative concepts and products, such as Salanova, one cut ready lettuce and KnoxTM , a trait that reduces pinking in lettuce, which extends shelf life. These products contribute to reducing food waste, and boosting consumption of vegetables by making them more attractive and easier for shops and consumers alike.

During the visit, views were exchanged on a number of different topics:

  • Seed registration and plant breeders rights
  • Cooperation with local municipality and government
  • Issues with phytosanitary requirements
  • Public-private partnership in Japan

It is quite unique for a subsidiary of an overseas entity to have farmland at its disposal, as the Japan’s Cropland Act does not permit any businesses or foreigners to buy agricultural land. In the case of Rijk Zwaan Breeding Japan K.K. a breakthrough occurred when it was able to rent land from an agricultural landowner, with support of the local municipality, and by getting approval from the local Agricultural Commission.

The way how Rijk Zwaan Breeding K.K. was able to establish an entity with a plot of farm land will be inspiring for other Dutch companies in the sectors of propagation materials and greenhouse horticulture and may serve as an example how to realize their business ambitions in Japan.  

While witnessing quite a number of other seed companies having their business base in Chiba, it seems like Japan’s “seed valley” is steadily being enriched with the strong presence of Rijk Zwaan, world market leader in plant breeding.

By Agricultural Office of the Netherlands Embassy in Tokyo
Inquiries: tok-lnv@minbuza.nl

Rijk Zwaan: Homepage | Rijk Zwaan

Lettuce cultivation