The eyes of farmers from all over Europe are on a farm in Belgium: Hof ten Bosch near Brussels. “Our farm is a place where we want to enter into an open dialogue on our contribution to sustainable and productive agriculture today and in the future”, says Jan Peeters, who runs the farm with his brother Josse. The 140-hectare Hof ten Bosch has been growing potatoes for the crisps industry, wheat, corn, and sugar beet since 1980. In addition, it cultivates three hectares of apples and pears, which are mainly sold directly at the farm. Recently, the brothers decided to join the Bayer ForwardFarming program that provides innovative solutions for a more sustainable agriculture.
“There has to be a balance between raising productivity and protecting biodiversity”, says Josse Peeters. “And we share this belief with Bayer.” In cooperation with farms like Hof ten Bosch, Bayer is developing customer-centric solutions to safeguard harvests, increase crop yields, and ensure the high quality of harvested produce. At the same time, sustainability is an integral part of the programs strategy. “Our innovative solutions help combine economic success with environmental and social responsibility”, says Dirk Baets, Sustainable Development Manager at Bayer in Belgium.
There has to be a balance between raising productivity and protecting biodiversity.
Caring for Soil
The Bayer ForwardFarm Hof ten Bosch demonstrates a wide variety of these sustainable agricultural solutions: “For every farmer, one of the principal challenges is maintaining soil fertility and reducing soil erosion”, explains Josse Peeters. Fertile soils with high water-holding capacity provide the basis for high-yielding crops. “At Hof ten Bosch, soil fertility is maintained through a four-year crop rotation, including potatoes, wheat, sugar beet and again wheat”, Peeters adds. Spring canola is used as a green manure crop to add and fixate nutrients to the rooting zone and to protect the soil during winter time against erosion. The risk of soil erosion is also reduced through effective use of machinery that supports “micro-dams” formation at both planting and ridging. The machinery plants and then creates the micro-dams in furrows. Since employing the method, the Peeters brothers have seen increased water retention and 94 percent reduction in surface erosion compared to untreated fields. The farm also achieved an additional yield of about three tons per hectare – a eight percent increase. “As a result of this success, we have decided to apply the micro-dams system across our entire potato acreage”, says Josse Peeters.
Balancing Productivity and Environment
Hof ten Bosch also introduced sustainable measures to increase biodiversity and reduce the ecological impact of their business: mixed hedges act as a windshield for fruit crops and help to prevent spray drift. Flowering strips provide continuous flowers and pollen from January to October, creating a reservoir for beneficial insects and pollinators. The brothers have even installed easy-to-maintain nesting boxes for small birds to control certain caterpillar pests or nesting places for larger predatory species, such as falcons, buzzards or owls, that feed on the rats and mice that can damage their fruit trees.
“Last but not least, the responsible and correct use of crop protection products to safeguard the health of farmers, consumers and the environment is also an important element of Bayer ForwardFarming”, says Baets. To ensure that only certified, high-quality seeds and registered plant protection products are used and suitable protective clothing is worn during their handling, the Bayer experts are also dedicated to rigorous and innovative stewardship measures such as “Dress code” and PhytobacTM (see Farming’s Future 02/2013). “The benefit is that we are working on a real farm and that we are testing our solutions in real life”, says Baets, who also gets a lot of feedback from the farmers: “We see how they react, see what is possible and what is not. So it is a live testing of our great solutions.”
The responsible and correct use of crop protection products to safeguard the health of farmers, consumers and the environment is also an important element of Bayer ForwardFarming.
Bayer ForwardFarming is a global knowledge platform for sustainable agriculture, designed to stimulate the dialogue with the society. The contributing farms bring together farmers, scientists and academia, technology partners and other players throughout the value chain, politics and regulators, as well as consumers. The goals are exchanging agricultural know-how and forming partnerships to jointly promote the role of agriculture in society. For further information please visit www.forwardfarming.com.