Sakata Seed Discusses Controlled Environment Agriculture
MORGAN HILL, CA - Sometimes the smallest things in life can bring about the greatest impact. In some ways, this theory is applicable to how a single seed can transform into nourishment that keeps our minds and bodies flourishing. At Sakata Seed, the tiniest products can be the most influential as growers and retailers seek out the highest quality varieties on the market. As controlled environment agriculture (CEA) rises in popularity, the company is perfecting its operations to remain at the top of its class. To get a better sense of all Sakata’s indoor greens program has to offer, I spoke with Tracy K. Lee of Product Development in Home Garden Vegetables and Indoor.
“A few years ago, growers of baby leaf products in CEA systems began finding success with several of our varieties,” Tracy began. “We created a small, dedicated CEA Leafy Greens team two years ago. Just nine months ago, we expanded the team to include functions like trials on existing products across multiple CEA systems, collaboration with growers on opportunities for new variety development, and development of focused marketing collateral for growers and retailers.”
Sakata has over 30 varieties that have been successfully grown as baby leaf greens or as microgreens (or as both) in multiple types of CEA systems. According to Tracy, the top varieties are in the arugula, beet leaf, pak choi, spinach, and Swiss chard classes. Successful options also include Chinese cabbage, collard, herbs, kale, mustard, and turnip. Lettuce is a top 10 crop for Sakata worldwide, but is not historically an active commercial focus in the U.S. However, the company is currently working on commercializing lettuce varieties for the U.S. CEA market.
“Sakata has long been dedicated to the breeding and production of quality seed varieties for traditional markets serving the produce industry” Tracy said. “We are committed to this emerging market and want to work more closely with growers, dealers, retailers, and foodservice partners to help bring solutions and innovation to market in a deliberate way.”
Further building out its leafy greens operations, Sakata recently acquired Vanguard Seed, a well-known lettuce seed company based in Salinas. Through insightful operational strategies, the two have joined forces to accelerate Sakata’s development of lettuce varieties.
As Tracy put it, rarely does an opportunity arise in our industry to be a part of creating new business as opposed to shifting market share as a primary method of growth. The team’s focus on solutions for this emerging market has allowed for a reexamination of how Sakata addresses its breeding, marketing, and sales cross-collaboration and reinvigorates its common goals.
“We’ve seen exponential growth in the convergence of the tech industry and the ag industry in terms of new venture capital funding and development of precision agriculture equipment. The initial laser focus on advanced technology is starting to incorporate a more traditional focus on plant genetics so that we are seeing balance between the choices of what to grow and how to grow it,” added Tracy.
Due to the high-tech nature of these operations, the growers Sakata works with have an understandable level of secrecy when it comes to their CEA strategies. However, as we see this segment continue to grow at retail, it is important that the growers engage with traditional agriculture entities like PMA and ASTA. This benefits everyone, assuring a better understanding of the trends and needs of this segment within the industry as a whole.
“Initially, there was a perception that this type of growing only applied to small ‘mom-and-pop’ or backyard operations. Seeing the opportunities for high value and market-targeted product in CEA grown crops like tomatoes has really paved the way for advancements in the leafy greens arena,” Tracy concluded. “Couple this with a continued growth of the consumer-driven demands of locally grown produce and the buy-in of the influential tech sector, and it looks like this segment is not going away. It won’t push out traditional methods, but instead provide a worthy complement.”
What will be the next development in the controlled environment growing space? While we can’t tell the future, Sakata’s outlook suggests that this is only the beginning. Keep clicking back to ANUK as we deliver you the latest news in the industry.