Koppert scales up for European agriculture: ‘Biological solutions offer multiple benefits’
Biological and sustainable solutions for diseases and pests are gaining ground in agriculture. Over the past few years, we have developed a range of biological solutions for outdoor crops and gathered a wealth of experience on multiple continents.
Building on this foundation, we’re now scaling up and intensifying development, including in Europe. This will help our customers reduce their reliance on chemicals and grow stronger, more resilient crops.
‘We’ve been developing biological solutions for horticulture for 55 years. Eleven years ago, we decided that we’d start to focus on outdoor crops as well, as this is an area in which sustainable solutions can make a big difference,’ explains Martin Koppert, Chief Business Officer for Agriculture at Koppert. ‘We’ve long maintained a comprehensive range of plant protection products for the horticultural industry. Partners with nature – that’s our “pay-off” and what we represent.’
‘Following the development and introductions of beneficials to naturally control pests, and bumblebees, which help with optimal pollination, we’ve also been busy developing microbiological products since the 1990s. These are mainly nematodes, bacteria, and fungi, to tackle diseases and make crops more resilient and more productive. These include Fusarium and the Sclerotinia fungus.
Even back then, we saw the potential these “microbials” could offer for agricultural crops. They are easier to scale, and for this industry in particular, large volumes are essential. Back then, the technology wasn’t yet capable of successfully applying these products on such a vast scale, which meant that it was unaffordable. Today things are different and it’s much easier to successfully apply these solutions to the market. As a result, we’re also seeing an ever increasing number of opportunities for introducing beneficials in outdoor crops as well.
Market leader in Brazil
The first experiences with large-scale use of microbials were in Brazil, the world’s largest agricultural market. ‘In Brazil, we have a local subsidiary where we have developed a wide-ranging portfolio of products for major industrial crops, such as soy, maize, and sugarcane. This portfolio includes not just microbial products, but plant stimulants and macro beneficials as well. We have also developed solutions to apply these products on a large scale. Drones have an important role to play in this.’
These efforts are starting to pay off. ‘We’ve become the market leader in Brazil. Our sustainable solutions are now being used on crops covering some five million hectares. Brazil was the perfect learning experience for us in terms of establishing a solid, economically beneficial biological protocol for large-scale crops.’
Sound basis for roll-out
We have also spent the past few years gathering experience in the development and use of sustainable solutions in the agricultural industry in other parts of the world, including various European countries. ‘We have a totally sound basis,’ explains Martin Koppert. With that basis, and a good dose of knowledge and experience, we’re ready to take further steps. In specific terms, this means the further roll-out of biological solutions in Europe over the next few years. We have nominated a number of focus crops for the development of complete solutions – grapes and fruit, for example, are important markets for France, while citrus fruits are essential in Spain. ‘
We’re constantly developing. Our research department is currently working to get Trianum-P registered for potatoes, a product that is based on the Trichoderma harzianum fungus. ‘This product is highly effective on soil diseases. We’re also developing new fungi to help tackle soil diseases. There’s a lot to come. For us, the sky’s the limit!’
Farmers can start by using the products we have available as part of an integrated system. In most cases, a complete switch to biological solutions is unlikely to be an immediate option. ‘But we’re eager to work with businesses to develop and expand our range. To that end, we would be delighted to talk to you and learn about what it is that you’re facing and what it is that you need. Together with farmers we’re establishing the integration of biologicals into existing grower practices and seeking out new partnerships. That’s the biggest step that we’ll take.
There are challenges along the way, and registering new biological products is a particular bottleneck. ‘It’s a time-consuming process and inhibits the introduction of existing solutions that are already available for other crops. A European registration process typically takes around seven to eight years.’
Martin is confident that agricultural businesses are now ready to take the step to sustainable solutions – not just because access to pesticides is now more restricted, but because of the growing realization that biological approaches work. ‘Farmers can see for themselves that they are better and more effective. They work properly and result in healthier and more resilient crops, which translates to a better return. At Koppert, we want to assist farmers in heavily reducing their use of chemical pesticides and in making their plants stronger. Biological solutions offer multiple benefits.’
Koppert’s concrete objective is to have reduced the use of chemical pesticides by current and potential customers by a tenth by 2030. ‘Amongst other things, this will help to improve biodiversity and tackle climate change. And in this regard, we actually know how to put our mission into practice: Koppert wishes to contribute to better health of people and the planet and, in partnership with nature, to make agriculture healthier, safer, and more productive. In short, “micro changes, macro impact.”’