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 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.
Bolstering plant growth with biostimulants
Innovation around biostimulants is a noteworthy avenue for bolstering plant growth, development, and overall health. While biostimulants do not directly replace pesticides, they serve as valuable allies in reducing reliance on synthetic pesticides by fortifying plants’ natural defence mechanisms and enhancing their resilience against pests and diseases.
Typically formulated with a blend of beneficial microorganisms (such as bacteria and fungi), plant extracts, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals, biostimulants function by stimulating vital plant processes, improving nutrient absorption, fostering robust root development, and amplifying the plant’s innate ability to ward off threats.
However, it is important to recognise that biostimulants do not universally replace pesticides in all scenarios. The utilisation of biostimulants forms part of a comprehensive and sustainable approach to agriculture, which strives to minimise reliance on pesticides while simultaneously promoting plant health and productivity.
Providing tailored solutions
Taking into consideration the diverse needs of farmers around the world, Corteva’s message is about being committed to providing tailored solutions that address the requirements of both major and lesser-known crops.
By harnessing the power of expedited development, Corteva leverages its formidable capabilities at the R&D Centre to equip farmers across the globe with an expanded array of tools in their agricultural arsenal.
This concerted effort aims to empower farmers with the resources they need to thrive in their respective regions, ultimately contributing to the sustainable advancement of global agriculture.
In one of the buildings, a poster on the wall reads: ‘We can’t see the future, but we can grow it.’