For years, farmers have been struggling with extreme weather conditions, weeds, insects, and poor soil quality. Add to that the devastating impact of climate change and it could put an end to your agricultural activities. Corteva Agriscience has opened its first combined crop protection and seed research laboratory in Eschbach, Germany to help drive innovation and deliver sustainable solutions to address these problems for farmers.
Food For Mzansi visited this groundbreaking research facility which enables them to conduct state-of-the-art crop protection studies to help develop solutions which protect crops from pests and diseases.
Andreas Huber, Corteva Agriscience field sciences leader at the facility, said they test products extensively for efficacy in a sustainable manner. “What does the grower see after the application of a product? Does the crop look different? It is about the quality of the yield – especially for vegetable growers, it is less the quantity and more the quality of the produce,” he explained.
Corteva Agriscience created the first commercial maize hybrid ever in 1926. Drought-tolerance trials, marker-assisted selection, biotech trials, advanced analytics, genomic selection, a germplasm and technololy merger, and gene editing followed – marking almost 100 years of plant breeding and innovation.
“In the last 20 years there were some real game-changing technologies we have been using,” said Dr Frank Röber, plant breeding technology leader at Corteva Agriscience.
“Gene editing has become very important for us. One is to improve disease resistance, looking at maize lethal necrosis in Africa,” he said.
Disease and pest control
Huber said they have a couple of integrated solutions in the pipeline. This includes disease-tolerant seed varieties, new solutions of biostimulants, and crop protection against diseases in corn and soybeans, among others.
“This is where farmer challenges are right now. Around the world, farmers have fewer and fewer tools to control these diseases and pests, so you need the help of genetics and crop protection to control this problem in the future,” Hubert said.
They take environmental responsibility very serious. When it comes to integrated pest management, they need to make sure that their products are effective but not harmful to beneficial insects, he added.
The company also has a facility in South Africa. Products available include solutions for citrus, cereals, grapes, maize, pome and stone fruits, potatoes, tree nuts, and tomatoes.
Röber said farmers in different countries can benefit from their research because of the connectivity of the different research centres.
“We are a global company and research is done globally. It is completely aligned. For example, we breed a lot of the materials for South Africa in Latin America because they have very similar maturity groups, so we can exchange them. The diversity we manage by having a global programme is by far bigger than a local breeder,” Röber explained.
Expect higher returns
How small-scale farmers can access and afford these products, however, sometimes remains a challenge.
Huber said they develop products that create value for all growers, and he admits that the products might be more expensive than generic products. “But the value is five times higher. You get much higher yield protection, farmers will be paid back in yield and quality and can afford more investment in their farms.
“Some of our most successful launches in the last 20 years were in countries with a lot of small-scale growers. Like in India, for example, they have very small growers and they would not buy a product if they do not get a much higher return back than what they paid for,” he explained.
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