Potato farming in Belgium is challenging, not least of all because the hilly landscape is very vulnerable to erosion. Farmer Willy Ronsmans has taken several measures to protect his soil and produce.
Willy Ronsmans was one of the first farmers in Belgium who implemented micro-dams in his fields.
“My parents were also farmers and I continued their business – and I also took over the farm of my wife’s parents.” Farming has a long tradition in Willy Ronsmans’ family and he is deeply rooted in this business. Currently, the 54-year-old owns 160 hectares of farmland in Bertem, only a few kilometers from the Belgian town of Leuven. “The investment in land over the past years has allowed me to rotate my crops, which helps reduce soil erosion and increase soil fertility,” adds Willy Ronsmans. He mainly grows potatoes but also other crops such as sugar beets, winter barley, and winter wheat.
Preventing erosion with micro-dams
Willy Ronsmans is a hands-on person and very interested in technical innovations to increase the sustainability level on his farm. He is one of the first farmers in Belgium using micro-dam technology for potato growing to prevent erosion and run-off. This is very important because this area is very hilly and soil containing important nutrients as well as crop protection products might run off. In addition, Willy Ronsmans has adapted the technology to his field conditions. “We calculate the distance between the micro-dams on the computer. My experience is that the closer the dams, the better they stay intact,” he says.
The number of beneficial insects in and around his fields has increased – thanks to flower strips.
On the one hand, by installing micro-dams between the ridges, he contributes to keeping surface water clean. Improving the quality of surface water remains a hot topic in Belgium. On the other hand, his yields have increased because the good soil stays on the field, even after heavy rains. As another counter-measure against erosion, he has installed grass buffer strips on an area totaling four hectares. A positive side-effect of this measure – in combination with flower strips – is that the number of beneficial insects in and around his fields has increased.
Hosting the Tour de Farm
Together with the Dutch potato processor » Farm Frites, Willy Ronsmans has installed a potato trial field. “A certain variety is better for one product, another variety is better for a different product, for instance for longer fries or shorter fries,” he says. He will present the results of this trial at this year’s Tour de Farm, an event organized jointly by Bayer and Farm Frites where farmers have the chance to learn about innovations that contribute to sustainable agriculture and exchange knowledge among colleagues. “It’s always great to discuss problems with each other and look together at what’s the best way to find sustainable solutions,” he says.