Meet the people behind the crops: Dirk-Jan Polak

Meet the people behind the crops: Dirk-Jan Polak

At Hazera, we are proud of our dedicated team, which works passionately to provide our growers with the best products. While our products often grab the headlines, it is the Hazera team who are behind our success. Let’s shine the spotlight on Dirk-Jan Polak (57), a Commercial Crop Specialist from Poortugaal, Netherlands, who plays a vital role in our organization.

Dirk-Jan has agriculture running in his veins. He shares with a smile. “My family history is quite interesting. We are a real food family. We are growers, fishermen, butchers, and bakers. In fact, just near our head office in Oosteind, you can find a bakery, the Bakery Polak, a legacy of my family.” For eight years, Dirk-Jan was a game dealer and built the Hollands Wild brand together with Jo Kloet. “We were the odd ones in the meat world.” Dirk-Jan laughed. “Because Jo had been a marketing director at Rijk Zwaan and I had had my vegetable-cutting company.” He joined Hazera two years ago as a Commercial Crop Specialist for radishes, corn salad, and baby carrots. His dedication to his work and crops is shown in the success of various projects. A recent example is the radish mix, where Dirk-Jan’s contributions played an important part and helped the project earn the prestigious title of Best Product of the Year in the Dutch Consumer Election.

What is a common myth about your job or field of expertise?

When asked about a misconception in his field, Dirk-Jan responds: “Most people who are no longer connected to our agriculture and horticulture hardly realize how professional and efficient we have become, but also how dependent we still are on nature and have to deal with it and every day.’’

In your opinion, what is the most important personality trait someone would need to work in your industry?

Dirk-Jan believes effective communication is crucial in his role as a Commercial Crop Specialist. “I act as the bridge between growers and Hazera, facilitating the flow of needs and solutions. It’s not just about delivering products; it’s about understanding the growers’ challenges, market demands, and regulatory landscapes,” he explains. “So, we can provide them a solution for the right varieties, the right calibers at the right time, in the right place.”

Which project are you proud of and why?

Dirk-Jan said immediately with a smile: “The radish mix was a nice project. It was the idea of a grower at Ortolanda to put three different colored radishes (purple, red, and white) in one box. It kind of looks like a rainbow radish box. This radish mix opened a new, so-called “snack radish” market, which is attractive for a new target group of consumers, the younger generation.” Continues Dirk-Jan with excitement. “It even caught the attention of Albert Heijn, a major Dutch supermarket, positioning radishes in a new, health-focused spotlight. It is also good and healthy for the people because, with the radish mix box, they eat three kinds of radish at once.”

What does “Hazera – Growing Together” mean to you?

“I like this slogan, because we as Hazera, as a breeder, are at the beginning of the whole food chain and this position comes with a great responsibility. That is why it is important to grow together with our growers, and our customers by listening to them and creating varieties that are needed for the markets to be able to feed the world sustainably in the future. This slogan also refers to the great team we have at Hazera that works together.”

Can you tell us something about yourself that most people do not know?

“I am an enthusiastic person, who always thinks of solutions. I think there is a solution to all the problems, but it is very important to communicate with your colleagues and customers. For many years I used to work primarily in Dutch and the transition to work mainly in English has been a bit difficult.” Dirk-Jan admits with a candid smile. “But it is getting better, and I try to be the ambassador and communicator for my crops and role.”

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Hazera’s new head of commercial: Tom Antens

“We must strive for quality and excellence in all aspects, to truly make the difference”.
Tom Antens returned to Hazera on 1st July 2023 as Head of the Commercial Department. “Even though Hazera is a strong brand in many markets, there’s still a lot of room to grow and new markets to explore. I see a lot of potential”, said Tom.

Tom is 47 years old and lives in Baarle-Nassau, the Netherlands, with his wife and two children. He previously as Sales Manager for the Middle East, North-Africa and Oceania. He later joined HM Clause as Business Manager. “I was in charge of leading and structuring all business activities in Turkey, a fast-growing subsidiary, as well as the commercial activities in the Middle East and North-Africa”.
During the past four years, Tom has worked for HM Clause as Commercial Director for Turkey, Algeria, EMEA Export and Africa, overseeing sales for these high-growth markets. “In this period, I also fulfilled the role of board member of a joint venture that HM Clause had with Seed Co. in Africa. We worked to combine their established brand awareness on the continent and our products to cater for the rising needs of African growers for hybrid vegetable seeds.”

Team effort
Now, returning with significant experience, Tom is excited to be back at Hazera. “I’m looking forward to working with both new and familiar faces. My goal is to form a close-knit team and bring stability to the Commercial Department as I have done in previous roles. From there, we can explore new markets for our Hi tech and ToBRFV resistant tomatoes and strengthen existing ones, realizing our growth potential along the way.”

Strong potential
“I strongly believe that, within Hazera, we have the people, knowledge, ambition, and commitment to get the company to the place that I believe we can get to. In my opinion, Hazera has a big growth potential and I’m looking forward to taking on the challenge to achieve it with the team.”

Game changer
“The question I ask myself is: how do we make the difference?”. According to Tom, the answer is quality and reliability. “Hazera’s products are widely regarded to be innovative. But, to really understand why clients choose us, we must place them at the centre point; not just in the Commercial Department, but in all departments within Hazera. We can excel by listening carefully to our growers and translating their input in our innovations. By combining this with operational excellence, we can grow together and truly stand out from the competition.”

Continuous improvement keeps Hazera Seeds in the global top

Hazera is committed to developing high-quality seeds that allow communities to flourish. To do that, Hazera focuses on continually improving its operational excellence in research, production, processing and quality for both customers and employees. “We deliver the best to our customers, and we want to keep it that way”, says Tyrrel Chisenga, Seed technologist. “We put in a lot of effort, but there is always room for improvement.”

“We breed for new varieties, and multiply seeds for growers and farmers alike”, Tyrrel explains. “After production, we perform extensive quality control tests to confirm that our seeds meet the commercial quality standards. Based on the various tests that we execute, we initiate processing activities to ensure that we deliver quality. We also take care of physiological enhancement to ensure seedling vigour and establishment even under sub-optimal conditions. Our efforts are to make sure the seeds that our farmers sow and nurture into a crop, grow and eventually end up as delicious vegetables in supermarkets across the world.”

Quality control and Seed technology
Quality control and Seed technology are an indispensable component for Hazera when it comes to making sure we deliver the best quality. “Nature comes with its challenges and when we encounter challenges that may compromise the final product quality after production we initiate research into the causes and solutions”, says Tyrrel. “Such research may encompass  physiological, physical, health, genetic aspects of the seeds or efficiency of processes. Everything we do is to ensure optimum quality for our customers.”

On top of the game
Even though Hazera adheres to the commercial quality standards and guarantees quality, there is always room for improvement, Tyrrel finds. Hazera invests in continually improving seed quality. “These investments include machinery for seed enhancement, automation of processes and the use of imaging systems for better inline decision making. Additionally, there are improved protocols with reduced lead times. We introduced the Lean management system in our processing plants. We created a work environment that allows the smooth and fast flow of processes and at the same time reduces work load. This allows us to cater to the needs of our customers in a brief period.”

For Hazera, its employees are on the same pedestal as the customers. Tyrrel: “The most important thing for the welfare of our employees is to make sure that their work remains interesting and safe. That is why we made a new tomato pelleting formulation that is safer for our employees to apply. It also results in improved sowability and seedling performance.”

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