SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, Calif. — Growth in lettuce, pepper and onion breeding programs keeps construction crews busy at Enza Zaden Research USA Inc.

Seed business breeds growth for Enza ZadenThe seed developer on May 24 officially opened a 10,000 square-foot research building in San Juan Bautista, and more greenhouses are being constructed.

“Enza Zaden is growing rapidly,” said Ronald Welten, breeding station manager.

In part that’s due to the company’s acquisition of an onion breeding program four years ago. Pepper and lettuce activity have also picked up, he said.

“We were at the point where there was no room for expansion whatsoever in the old building,” Welten said. “The breeding teams have been reinforced over the last couple years. We’re (also) going to build onion processing facilities this year.”

The research building is comprised of offices, a pathology lab and climatized seed vault. Designed with sustainability features, it’s expected to become the first LEED certified building in San Benito County, company and county officials said.

Seed business breeds growth for Enza ZadenBesides three breeding programs, Enza Zaden Research USA also screens spinach, cauliflower, squash and pumpkins for company divisions such as Vitalis Organic Seeds.

A crowd of about 60 came out for the ribbon cutting, among them representatives of Earthbound Farm, Ocean Mist Farms and the University of California-Davis.

Joep Lambalk, global research and development director for Enkhuizen, the Netherlands-based Enza Zaden, said California isn’t the only place the company is making moves in.

“We will this year start up activities in India and South Africa,” he said. “Next year we have plans to start in Brazil.”

“We are very comfortable that we are able to add in the coming years more and more product groups, like summer squash (and) pumpkins,” Lambalk said.

Enza Zaden deals in 22 vegetable species and more than 1,000 varieties, he said.

The onion program at San Juan Bautista focuses on short-day and intermediate-day onions, Welten said, while the New Zealand program breeds long day varieties.

“We’re trying to cover the whole world,” Welten said. “This year we’re going to start a program in northwestern Europe for the long-day onion types.”

Tom Hussar, trialing manager for Castroville-based Ocean Mist Farms, said his company uses some Enza Zaden lettuce varieties.

“A lot of seed companies have field days to show their products,” Hussar said. “Having a relationship with the primary seed breeding company is important because it’s good to see what’s coming up and communicate back to them different traits we’re looking for in crops.”