Wednesday, October 23, 2019
Showcasing the future of potato cultivation at Tour de Farm
How do we deal with the shrinking number of pesticides available for potato cultivation and storage? And what can be expected from biological pesticides? These questions and many more were discussed at Tour de Farm 2019, organized by Farm Frites and Bayer.
“There are many changes in the potato growing industry in the making. It's good to discuss this with each other and to exchange knowledge,” said Hens Gunneman, Senior Agronomist at Farm Frites, in his opening remarks.
The fifth edition of Tour de Farm took place in mid-September in Stad aan 't Haringvliet, Netherlands and Éghezée, Belgium – and brought together over 200 farmers and value chain stakeholders. On the first day, farmer Francois Rigo from Eghezée expressed the need to communicate to the public what today’s agriculture is all about. Pieter Molennar, whose farm in Stad aan 't Haringvliet served as the venue for the second part of this year’s Tour de Farm, expressed his concern about the shrinking number of pesticides allowed for potato cultivation and highlighted the importance of events such as Tour de Farm: “In the coming years, many important products in potato cultivation will disappear. It's good that we're all thinking about this now, so that we can find new solutions for it in time.”
Tour de Farm is a great platform to bring stakeholders together and openly discuss such issues. Farm Frites’ Purchasing Director Leon Boer kicked off the meeting by reviewing the 2018/2019 potato season, which was mainly characterized by drought. Nonetheless, Farm Frites is growing and wants to continue to do so in the years to come.
Jolanda Wijsmuller argued in favor of a more active dialog with consumers and politicians.
Information and transparency
During the forum discussions at Tour de Farm in Stad aan 't Haringvliet and in Eghezée, it became evident that many feel the need for more public relations activities. Pieter Molenaar and Francois Rigo are convinced that farmers and organizations should play a much more active role when it comes to dealing with public opinion on pesticides; both also highlighted the need for fact-based education. Leon Boer also noted that his company needs to explain more to its customers: “People outside the sector often have no idea what is involved in the production of fries. By explaining it as simply as possible you foster understanding.”
Jolanda Wijsmuller, ICM & Value Chain Manager at Bayer, also argued for a more active dialog with consumers and politicians: “We need to better inform the public. It’s important to be truly transparent.” Veerle Mommaerts, Food Chain Manager at Bayer in Belgium, added that a factual dialog is essential to gaining trust. “Working together with partners – like in this Food Chain Partnership initiative with Farm Frites – creates opportunities to exchange knowledge, foster dialog, and motivate partners to communicate,” she said.
“Good storage quality no longer starts in the barn but in the field,” said Olivier Aubry.
Potato specialist Cees van den Hoek gave a detailed explanation of the elimination of the sprout inhibitor CIPC and the possible alternatives that may remain after that.
After the forum discussions, visitors were split into groups to explore different stations. Potato specialist Thomas Zijlmans from Farm Frites presented new varieties for fries that are currently being tested. His colleague Cees van den Hoek discussed the ban on the sprout inhibitor CIPC (effective from October 2020) and showcased possible alternatives. According to the potato specialist, the first problem that will arise is the residual level in barns where CIPC has been used on potatoes during storage. There is a potential risk that due to the ban the allowed MRL (maximum residue level) will be exceeded in barns where CIPC has been used for several years.
“For farmers, the number of available solutions is decreasing and, as such, it’s become a holistic approach,” said Olivier Aubry, Advisory Representative at Bayer Belgium. “For example, due to the loss of CIPC, good storage quality no longer starts in the barn but in the field.” In a trial with three different varieties, the importance of Fazor® as a solid base was showcased at Tour de Farm and the results both at harvest and after storage are going to be communicated via the Farm Frites online journal.
Bayer's Crop Advisor Sander Uwland introduced visitors to Serenade®, a biological fungicide. “Serenade colonizes on the roots and then continues to expand with the growth of the roots. In this way, it protects the tubers against scurf, silver scurf and Rhizoctonia,” he explained. In addition to fungicidal effects, Serenade also has a positive effect on the number of tubers per plant. Although Sander Uwland is very pleased with the results, he clarified that they are more unpredictable compared to chemical alternatives. In order to further explore Serenade's potential, a long-term project was started in 2018 in which a large number of value chain partners participated. The aim is to gain broader experience with Serenade and at the same time generate as much data as possible. Sander Uwland is certain that we will have to prepare ourselves for an era in which there are no chemical alternatives available: “That's why we have to do everything we can now to map out how we can make Serenade work optimally.”
Sophie Persoon discussed the complex regulatory process in Europe with farmers.
At a panel discussion, Veerle Mommaerts called for a more open dialog.
Changes in crop protection
“Why can I no longer use this solution to protect my crop?” This is a question European farmers are being confronted with more and more. Sophie Persoon, Regulatory Manager at Bayer in Belgium, argued that the stricter regulatory process in Europe – together with the emotionally driven debate on pesticides in the media and its influence on political decisions – are the reason for this development.
“Within five to ten years, 35% of current solutions will be gone.” With this alarming message, Bayer's Crop Advisor Simon Jensma introduced the upcoming changes in crop protection at Tour de Farm in the Netherlands. He first sketched out the scientific “checkpoints” that a new active ingredient has to pass through before it can be authorized. On average, this process takes about twelve years, with many independent scientific organizations assessing the active ingredient from all angles. “And rightly so, because safety for people and the environment must always be prioritized over any other interest,” Simon Jensma said.
Due to increasingly complex registration processes, growers will have fewer pesticides to choose from in the future. Simon Jensma expects that up to 75 active chemical substances will disappear in the next five to ten years. He concludes, “In order to preserve as many existing substances as possible, we will have to focus as much as possible on precise application. In other words, we must achieve the maximum effect with a minimum load. In addition, we really need to work with green substances. That is the future, although for the time being it offers fewer certainties than we have been used to until now.”
By bringing together stakeholders along the entire potato value chain and by fostering open dialog and transparency, Tour de Farm has created a space for knowledge exchange and cooperation to tackle these upcoming challenges. Stephan Brunner, Global Key Relation Manager at Bayer, looks back at Tour de Farm 2019: “As part of this Food Chain Partnership initiative with Farm Frites we discussed sustainable solutions with potato growers to meet increasing agricultural and societal challenges. I experienced once again how open dialog helps create awareness and build trust among value chain stakeholders.”