Plants with pure “biology inside”

8 November 2016
Some ten years ago, pot plant nursery De Barreveld started using biological crop control - making them a pioneer in the sector. Legislation relating to chemical crop protection products has become increasingly stricter over time, but reports on the damaging effects of pesticides still continue to stir public opinion. Just take neonicotinods and the link to bee decline. This motivated De Barreveld to shift up a gear in their aim to minimise the use of chemical crop protection products: “We gain more experience every year and are gradually moving towards our goal of maximum biological methods.”
De Barreveld produces a huge range of ornamental plants: potted plants, aglaonemas, phlebodiums, poinsettias, hibiscus... Depending on the crop, production is seasonal or year-round.
The ornamental plants are grown at four different sites in Hondelersdijk, which add up to a total production area of seven hectares. Recently the company added a new asset: plants that meet the most stringent criteria in terms of absence of chemical residues. The market demand for this kind of plant is growing, consumers do care about a sustainable production process that excludes products which are harmful to bees and bumblebees.
The team at De Barreveld can draw on a long track record with biological crop protection. “In 2008 we started using predatory mites, predatory bugs and parasitic wasps to control whitefly, red spider mite and aphid populations,” says Marijn Koornneef, who has been one of the business associates at De Barreveld for 18 years. “We already noticed a declining trend in the application of chemical products back then. The restrictions imposed by legislation are getting tighter year after year. Pests are becoming more resistant to chemicals, and customers more demanding. So biological methods are a very welcome alternative.”

It takes a lot of patience to perfect the art of using biological crop protection methods. It really is a process of trial and error that involves a steep learning curve. During its transition from chemical to biological, De Barreveld always had the support of Biobest. “There is no ‘one size fits all’ blueprint when a company starts to use integrated pest management methods”, explains Wesley Akkermans, IPM and Pollination Specialist at Biobest. “No two companies are the same, so at each company we examine the best way to roll out a successful biological or integrated strategy together with the crop manager. The advice we give is absolutely custom-made whereby the interaction between the people at the nursery and the experts at Biobest is crucial.”

A biological strategy is never complete, it is always work in progress. The key to success is closely monitoring market trends, responding proactively and providing accurate follow-up. And that is how De Barreveld successfully switched to using biological methods over the past decade. It is precisely that experience that gives them the confidence to now shift up another gear in biological crop care. Chemicals, and especially ‘bee-unfriendly’ pesticides are being banned step by step. Using beneficial
insects and mites and biopesticides is taking on a more significant role. Even the technical aspects of growing are adapted to create the optimal conditions for the beneficial biological controllers. This demonstrates just how well the management team at the company in the Westland region keeps a finger on the pulse. The market has an express wish for plants cultivated without these harmful substances, and plants that comply with the strictest standards regarding the absence of chemical residues.

A proactive approach and sticking to a pre-defined plan – or as Marijn Koornneef says: refusing to budge – is the way to be prepared in time for the increasingly tighter regulations that will be imposed by the government, and greater demands imposed by customers. Koornneef: “By already switching to biological methods in 2008, we had a head start of five years on the demands that are imposed by a number of major customers. They keep tightening up the chemical residue limits. This lead is a huge competitive advantage for us. You are bound to run into trouble if you are forced to go biological and haven’t started building expertise in advance.”
Wesley Akkermans concludes: “As far as biological crop protection in the ornamental sector goes, we operate at the cutting-edge with our customers: a zero tolerance policy applies. In the fruit and vegetable sector you can aim for a biological balance that keeps the threat of pests under a certain threshold. But that’s not enough in ornamental crops. Consumers want plants that are clean in every respect: no pest damage, no visible presence of beneficial insects and of course an outstanding record in terms of absence of chemical residues.”

Press release Biobest Belgium N.V.

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