Sakata inaugurated its new research centre in Uchaud (Gard, France) last week, on Wednesday 19th October. The event was attended by Masato Kitera, Japan’s ambassador to France, Hiroshi Sakata, President of Sakata Seed Corporation, and Alain Sicard, Chairman of European Sakata Holdings. Arles-based chef, Jean-Luc Rabanel, has been commissioned to create dishes for the occasion, based on vegetables created by Sakata.
The new facility will provide employees with ideal working conditions. One part is set aside for offices, while the other houses the laboratories. The building, which will offer a surface area of 1,300m², has been designed by A+ Architecture and is the result of a €2.8m investment.
The research centre concentrates on four areas: vegetable breeding, cellular biology, vegetable pathology and molecular biology. It has a staff of 68 people, 38 of whom are based in France’s Gard area. Nine new staff have recently joined the team, leaving one position still to be filled.
The research carried out at Uchaud focuses mainly on Charentais melons, tomatoes and peppers. Teams work specifically on flavour and disease resistance, with the joint aims of producing higher quality products for consumers and facilitating integrated farming. New vegetable varieties are selected in the laboratory, greenhouse and open fields, both at Sakata’s site and in partnership with farmers.
Sakata Vegetables Europe, produces and sells vegetable seeds in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It is part of the Japanese group Sakata Seed Corporation, one of the world's leading vegetable and flower seed suppliers.
The new building
Sakata Vegetables Europe’s new €2.8m research centre facility in Uchaud (France) has been designed by A+ Architecture and offers a surface area of 1,300m².
It links together people and nature, Japan and the Mediterranean. The bamboo theme is prominent on the building’s exterior, becoming the site’s main identity, its signature. Behind this, the fluid concrete facades seem to drape the building like a light veil. Inside, workstations benefit from ample natural light but are protected from the sun’s direct rays, to provide a comfortable working environment and save energy.
The Uchaud research centre also includes 14 hectares of glasshouses and 6 hectares of fields.
A comprehensive development project
The new building is part of a comprehensive development project; the group is investing a total of €10m locally.
The production facility was extended in 2015, from 3,000m² to 8,000m² (at a cost of €5,350K).
The former research centre building is to be renovated (budget €555K). It will house the European holding company, currently located in Montpellier. The two entities will then be able to work together more easily, saving time and enjoying more opportunities for informal interaction.
A third building is planned for late 2016, to house staff facilities such as a catering area, relaxation lounges and rooms for wellbeing activities (budget €755k).
Sakata people and Sakata research programmes
The Sakata Vegetables Europe research centre is staffed by 68 people, 38 of whom are based in Uchaud. The team includes agronomists, farm workers, laboratory and analysis technicians. In the summer, around twenty seasonal staff join the team in the fields and glasshouses.
Nine new staff have been recruited this year for the research centre. One farm worker’s post currently remains unfilled.
The research centre was founded in 1998. It concentrates on four areas: vegetable breeding, cellular biology, vegetable pathology and molecular biology.
It oversees eight research units in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Work at Uchaud focuses mainly on Charentais melons, tomatoes and tomato rootstock, and peppers.
The Uchaud centre also contributes to programmes in other countries, on broccoli, cauliflowers, spinach, cabbages, courgettes and Bimi®. It therefore has input into all the vegetable varieties developed by the Sakata Seed Corporation group.
From research centre to the plate
Sakata works to improve plants and create new varieties. The end product of its work is food for human consumption. Consequently, its research takes account of the needs of the complete fruit and vegetable supply chain.
Seeds grow into vegetables, and vegetables are cooked and eaten. With this in mind, the research centre focuses on taste. Arles-based chef Jean-Luc Rabanel was commissioned to create dishes for the research centre’s opening event, based on vegetables created by Sakata.
Farmers prefer to work with disease-resistant vegetable varieties because they can then reduce the quantities of chemical treatments they use, or even adopt an integrated farming approach. They are also interested in varieties capable of adapting to climate change. Seeds that meet both these criteria, because they are resistant to disease and able to adapt to the climate, produce more plentiful harvests.
Farmers are involved at two stages of the research process: upstream, when they help define the products they need, and downstream, during growth tests under glass and in the fields.
Food distributors would like to see vegetables with extended shelf lives which can be transported and stored more easily.
Sakata works closely with numerous partners including:
- INRA (the French national institute for agronomic research),
- the universities of Almeria (Spain), Pretoria (South Africa), Wageningen (Netherlands) and Cartagena (Spain),
- the French fruit and vegetable sector technical centre (CTIFL),
- the French national seed sector grouping (GNIS).
Research that creates household names
Stages in creating a vegetable, from seed to the plate
- a range of plant populations are developed
- varieties are selected and created
- trials are carried out under glass and in fields on the Sakata site
- trials are carried out in fields in partnership with farmers
- seeds are produced in the northern or southern hemisphere to cut lead times and achieve year-round production serving the entire planet
- seeds are treated and packed at Uchaud
- they are sold through subsidiaries and distributors in 81 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa
- vegetables are grown and sold by farmers
- they are prepared and enjoyed by consumers
Some concrete examples
Consumers enjoy the results of Sakata Vegetables Europe research centre’s work when they eat fruit and vegetables. Examples include:
- the Melixis Charentais melon was developed at Uchaud,
- the Mini Star cherry tomato - the first “coeur de pigeon” cherry tomato brought to the French market - was designed by Sakata,
- the Sweetbell, a more flavourful variety of turnip, was developed by Sakata to counter the vegetable's bland reputation,
- most of the broccoli grown in the world (65%) comes from Sakata seeds.