As a representative for Food for Afrika, Ronelle Louwrens recently embarked on a journey to Corteva Agriscience’s first combined crop protection and seed research laboratory at the new Research and Development (R&D) Centre in Eschbach, Germany. She gives insight into her experience at this state-of-the-art agricultural research facility and what it means for farmers around the world. The crucial role plant breeding will play in the future especially struck a chord with her.
The uncharacteristic heat and dry circumstances lend a peculiar twist to my experience as an African finding respite from the sun under an umbrella on European soil. It served as a poignant reminder of the impact of climate change, which knows no country borders and casts its shadow upon the agricultural industry, serving as its unwavering adversary on the frontline.
Strategically located at the borders of France, Germany, and Switzerland, the centre serves as a key research and development location for the entire EMEA Region. It is fully incorporated into Corteva’s global lab network and is complementary to other laboratories like the one in Centurion, South Africa, serving the African continent.
The next five years will be crucial
According to Dr Andreas Huber, Corteva Agriscience field sciences leader at the facility, crop protection over the next five years will be critical for food security in a world grappling with a burgeoning population, diminishing yields per unit of land, and mounting challenges posed by escalating temperatures, capricious weather patterns, and dwindling arable spaces.
Farmers find themselves in need of new tools to maximise productivity and fortify their resilience while safeguarding the precious tapestry of biodiversity.
He explained that the mission of the centre is to propel agriculture forward through sustainable innovation. The consolidated research centre combines three areas: seed product development, molecular biology and crop protection. As we moved between the buildings, we were shown the different cutting-edge plant breeding techniques and field studies.
Fascinating crop innovations
Dr Frank Röber, plant breeding technology leader at Corteva Agriscience, took us through the latest plant breeding techniques. One of the most impressive is the extensive data bank of DNA markers holding decades of plant genetic information. They focus on breeding more resilient varieties while abiding by strict sustainable guidelines and goals of the UN Green Deal.
The pursuit of agricultural improvement encompasses a range of strategies aimed at enhancing crops for a sustainable future. This involves developing disease-resistant varieties, devising methods to control parasitic plants, improving overall crop quality, cultivating stronger root systems, and exploring novel cropping systems that prioritise quality over quantity.
Braving the 37 degrees Celsius heat, we had a look at the practical application in the fields of wheat and maize, among others. The ground team use drones to collect growth data and test the work done by the plant breeders. While in the field one of the team members produced a sugar beet which I thoroughly enjoyed and is not nearly as sweet as the raw sugarcane I am used to.
Sign up for Mzansi Today: Your daily take on the news and happenings from the agriculture value chain.