Winning Hearts with Serenade
Somewhere in the Netherlands, a flight of drones soars above a crop of potatoes. They instantly get to work, using thermal imaging to capture the temperature of the crop. At the same time, sensors collect and transmit real-time data on soil moisture levels, while multispectral imaging detects crop growth and photosynthesis. Data are instantly transmitted to the farmer, who analyzes the information and monitors the composition of potatoes, reviewing nitrogen and calcium levels and adjusting farming processes to further improve quality and harvest potential.
It may sound like the farm of the future, but this technology is already upon us and supports farmers in gaining a richer picture of their fields and crops. So, what better way to validate the performance of Bayer’s Serenade® ASO biological fungicide – a living organism derived from nature, contributing to better soil as well as root and plant health – than by working with our food chain partners to implement a project involving Serenade in the Netherlands, utilizing digital farming methods to collect and analyze the results?
The Netherlands is an agricultural giant. It ranks among the world’s top ten producers of potatoes, producing more than six million tons* every year. In 2018, working together with seven food chain partners (Lamb Weston, Avebe, Caithness Potatoes, Nedato, Farm Frites, HZPC, and the Skylark Foundation), we set up 37 trial sites across the Netherlands: 10 in seed potato, 15 in ware potatoes grown for the fresh market, and another 12 in starch potato. The aim was to demonstrate the effectiveness of using a biological such as Serenade at the farmer level, to collect specific agronomic experiences, and to gain insight into our value chain partners’ acceptance of biologicals. By offering science-based biological crop protection products, we help farmers meet consumer demands while also protecting the environment.
The initial challenge we had was in validating the success of Serenade. Whereas herbicides, traditional fungicides, and insecticides are often applied over time through foliar application, which can make a visible difference, Serenade is applied directly to the soil, making it difficult to measure effectiveness through visual aids alone. This is why the adoption of digital farming devices was essential to enable us to track the difference that Serenade made to the soil and crop conditions in real time, adjusting crop management to improve the overall quality and harvest potential.
We provided each farmer with Serenade and asked him to use the same volume on each field, applying the biological to one potato patch and continuing with traditional farming approaches for the other patch, to give us a direct comparison. By leveraging new tools and technologies, we were able to accelerate learning, to exchange between farmers, and to share individual experiences of using a biological solution.
We used a unique qPCR technology to track and trace the ability of the bacteria in Serenade to colonize the root and we used drones to monitor photosynthesis, growth, and crop temperature. At harvest we assessed total output and grading, including visible tuber quality and tuber quality based on mineral analysis.
The results of the trial were amazing! In ware potatoes, Serenade provided significant harvest increases of 10% and significantly improved skin quality compared to traditional farming methods – and better skin quality means less food waste for consumers. Serenade also increased the number of seed potatoes harvested and contributed to a major quality change in grading.
We observed an increase of more than two percent in potato size, improved skin quality with a reduction in Helminthosporium, Rhizoctonia, and Streptomyces and a reduction in the number of green potatoes, for a purer harvest. Our results also showed that Serenade enhances both macro- and micro-nutrient content in the tubers, especially the levels of calcium, iron, zinc and manganese. Calcium increase is particularly promising for farmers and consumers as this indicates that harvests could remain fresher longer when grown with the aid of biologicals. Another positive result was the cooperation and feedback between the farmers who took part in the trials and really embraced the collaborative experience.
What does this all mean? Our results show that biologicals can significantly improve potato quality and harvest potential and when used with the assistance of digital farming technologies, the in-field growing processes can be monitored through the use of real-time data to further improve output.
However, a single year is not substantial enough on its own to successfully promote a more sustainable potato industry through biologicals. To further assess the effectiveness of biologicals in potato agriculture we are running similar trials in the Netherlands throughout 2019, with even more farmers and value chain partners.
We are continuing to work with our partners to use digital farming techniques and have even created an instant messaging group so farmers can share their feedback among the trial participants. We plan on trialing different biological products to get a wider view of their effectiveness as we continue to learn together with farmers to make crop protection even more sustainable. As soon as more results are available, we’ll share them with our food chain partners. It’s been a truly collaborative experience!