Sustainable farming needs holistic knowledge, experience and innovation
Bayer CropScience has been working with a farm in Belgium Hof ten Bosch as part of a wider €2.4bn ‘ForwardFarming’ investment program, launched in 2013, to create partnerships with farms and research institutes across Europe to develop innovative solutions for sustainable agriculture.
Mark Sneyders, head of market and sustainable development, said that under the program ‘precision farming’ practices had saved farmers 4% on fertilizers and crop protection costs and reduced soil erosion by as much as 90%.
“We are convinced that, when combining knowledge, experience and innovation, we can come up with an answer for the increasing demand for high quality food, feed and plant based raw materials. At the same time, we can contribute to a better use of energy and water and stimulate biodiversity and the environment,” he told Milling & Grains.
“At Bayer we believe that a holistic approach towards more sustainable agriculture and the opportunity for an on-going exchange of know-how between all stakeholders in the agricultural value chain is the best way to overcome these challenges.”
The ForwardFarming sites in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Poland will provide a discussion platform to facilitate public dialogue and disseminate knowledge about modern agriculture, its opportunities and its challenges, he said.
Hof ten Bosch in Belgium has been a test bed for a number of collaborative initiatives to optimize crop protection treatments and increase biodiversity, Sneyders explained.
“To promote sustainable agriculture we need to develop customer-centric solutions to safeguard harvests, increase crop yields, ensure the high quality of harvested produce, and protect both human health and the environment,” hesaid.
A ‘decision support tool’ for cereal crops had been used to analyze agronomic data on a specific field, for example, including cultivation technique, crop rotation, type of soil, variety, sowing date, crop density and growing stage. Historical annual weather data, actual weather data and forecasted weather had then been used to predict disease attacks on the crop.
“This makes it possible to advise the farmer exactly when he has to protect his crop with which product in order to get the optimal result. This way unnecessary treatment or too early or too late treatments are avoided,” said Sneyders.
Farmers face complex challenges
Other ongoing projects include tests to develop new sowing technologies to avoid soil erosion in corn crops, together with comparisons of no-till and conventional ploughing techniques and researching ways of increasing crop yields with fewer inputs.
“Farmers nowadays are facing complex challenges - they need to increase agricultural productivity in a sustainable manner, adopt farming to weather fluctuations, optimally manage soil and water, maintain biodiversity on their farmland, and fulfill increasing food chain and consumers' demands,” he said.
The partners were also working with research institutes in the Netherlands and UK using DNA fingerprinting to enhance phytophtora pathogen management and refine its fungicide strategy in 2015. This plant pathogen is one of the world’s most invasive species of soil-borne water mould and causes a condition called root rot or dieback in plants.