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Sustainable agriculture

In order to secure food supply across the globe, food production needs to increase within the existing agricultural areas. The crop protection agents sector argues for an appropriate use and minimum dosing of crop protection agents and nutrients. The negative impact on man and the environment can thus be limited and biodiversity can be retained.

The initiatives below demonstrate how the phyto-pharmaceutical sector is working with the agricultural sector in order to create a sustainable agriculture.

Sector initiatives

PhytofarRecover becomes AgriRecover

In 1997 the association PhytofarRecover was founded by the phyto-pharmaceutical industry. This organisation is in charge of collecting packaging of professional plant protection products. Belgium was one of the first countries in Europe to set up this type of collection. Eighteen years after the founding of PhytofarRecover these collection services were so embedded in the sector of agriculture and horticulture that the question arose to extend this service provision to the collection of packaging of other products.

This was discussed with producers of primary agricultural biocides, fertilisers and seeds. A number of those companies have joined the association, and it looks like more will follow.

The fact that the name of this association has changed to AgriRecover is a logical consequence of this evolution. As the name indicates, AgriRecover offers producers and end users a solution for the packaging of agrochemical products. In this area as well, we are supported by our neighbouring countries France and Germany, where the extension to other sectors has been a reality for quite some time.

In practice, the packaging is rinsed and recycled into cable protection pipes (product recycling). This is done in collaboration with our German colleagues of RIGK – Pamira. Packaging that cannot be rinsed is incinerated. The energy recovered in this process is used in the furnaces of the cement industry (thermal recycling). This is a good example of how waste can be processed into a secondary raw material. Hence, this type of initiative provides companies in the agrochemical sector with a positive and environment-friendly image.

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The purifying power of Sentinel®

duurzame landbouw sentinel

5 years ago, Phytofar, VOLSOG (Alliance of former students of the public regional school for spraying entrepreneurs in Ghent) and Inagro started the Sentinel®project. This project enables several professional sprayers to use Sentinel® for purifying the residual water retained in their spraying equipment. Their efforts contribute effectively to a higher water quality.

Fighting contamination by processing residual water
Plant protection products sometimes enter the surface water through residual and rinsing water and this can have a negative impact on the aquatic life. The presence of certain plant protection products in surface water not only poses a problem for the environment; it can also result in a prohibition or severe restriction on using those products. This can be prevented by collecting the residual and rinsing water which contains elements of plant protection products and treating it with a system such as Sentinel®.

Sentinel® purifies
Sentinel® works on the basis of chemical processes: after adding chemical substances (iron sulphate, sodium hydroxide and polyelectrolyte), the residue of the plant protection products starts to form flakes. The flakes sink to the bottom and are filtered from the residual water. An active carbon filter takes care of post-purification. During each processing round – which lasts approximately 6 hours – around 900 litres of water is purified. The purified water can be used for a first rinsing round or a treatment with a total herbicide. The remaining sludge fraction is collected by Agri Recover and processed by a specialised firm.

More and more residual water is being purified
The Sentinel® project was launched in 2009 as a cooperation effort between Phytofar, Volsog and Inagro. The initial aim was to help contracted spraying companies and farmers purify the residual water remaining in their spraying equipment. Phytofar (The Belgian Association for the Crop Protection Products Industry) invested in the purchase of the Sentinel® system. Volsog contributed by providing financial support to its members who participated in the Sentinel® project. Inagro supplied the practical and logistics framework.

Approximately 315 m³ of residual water has been processed over the past 5 years. This volume represents the residual water of 12 different contracted sprayers and 5 companies/research centres. The first three years (2010, 2011, 2012) were key in discovering and optimising the functions of Sentinel®. Sentinel® has enjoyed increasing popularity in the past two years. 91 m³ of residual water was processed in 2013, and a record volume of 110 m³ was achieved in 2014.

Sentinel®contributes to the protection of our waterways
To which extent has Sentinel® been able to contribute effectively to a better quality of our water? Each litre of residual water contained an average 3.7 mg of active substance, equalling 1165.5 g of active substance in the total amount of 315,000 litres of residual water collected over a period of five years. If this quantity of active substance had ended up in the surface water, the legal standard of 0.1 µg/l would have been surpassed in 23,310 km of waterways (1 metre wide and 0.5 m deep). In other words: Sentinel® managed to protect 23,310 kilometres of waterway.

Using and promoting Sentinel® also positively influences the quality of our water in an indirect manner: contracted sprayers show their increased awareness of water pollution by working with or talking about Sentinel®. This results in more thought-through working methods and greater efforts towards restricting the quantity of residual water wherever possible.

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BeeHappy: How healthy are our bees?

It is a fact that we have been faced with an increased number of bee deaths over the past few years. There is no certainty about the causes of this yet. Moreover, European bee death rates vary strongly from one region to another. Therefore, specific and systematic research has been performed in Belgium into causal relationships between bee deaths and variables present in each region.

In 2014 the Flemish Institution for Technological Research (VITO, Guy Engelen) and the Zoological Physiology department (UGent, professor Dirk De Graaf) carried out a project. This was financed by the Flanders Innovation Hub for Sustainable Chemistry (FISCH) and the Agency for Innovation by Science and Technology (IWT) and co-financed by the crop protection industry. This study fits into the framework of the Consultation Platform on Bees, which was launched at the end of 2013 and is intended as a platform where agricultural associations and the machinery, seed, pharmaceutical and phytopharmaceutical industries can discuss, together with the beekeepers, how all partners – each within their field and expertise – can contribute to improving the health of bees.

At the beginning of 2015 the first part of the study was completed. This focused on Flanders and looked for possible relationships between increased death rates in winter and all kinds of factors. Matters such as varroa and other diseases present in beehives, practices of beekeepers, the use of crop protection products (pesticides), electromagnetic radiation, fine particles, urbanisation, available food, nesting possibilities, biodiversity and landscape fragmentation, but also weather and climate conditions were looked at and assessed from a scientific point of view.

Conclusions could be drawn from this BeeHappy study only to a limited extent. The results show that varroa, a mite that affects bees and severely debilitates them, is the factor that can explain most bee deaths. This factor corresponds to 15%. When varroa infestation is combined with the use of certain crop protection products and with electromagnetic radiation from mobile telephone masts, up to 23% of bee deaths can be explained.

This means that further research is necessary. In a next phase of the project the same study will be performed in Wallonia. Besides validating and refining the model used, it will also be studied whether the quality of the data used in the model (e.g. bee death rates, landscape map details, etc.) can be improved. In this way, the researchers hope to be able to find a better explanation for a larger share of bee deaths in winter.

duurzame landbouw BeeHappy

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Integrated crop protection gains ground

duurzame landbouw Geïntegreerde gewasbescherming(1)

New crop protection rules were introduced in 2014 as a result of a European Directive with respect to the sustainable use of plant protection products. One of the rules imposes the application of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). According to the principles of Integrated Pest Management, farmers must apply any control techniques in an integrated fashion to ensure that any damage to plants is kept below the economic threshold. In the event of diseases or plagues in their crops, farmers must give preference to non-chemical control methods.

The European Directive dictates that ‘sustainable biological, physical and other non-chemical methods’ must be preferred to chemical plant protection products. It adds the condition that these methods should provide satisfactory pest control. In the spirit of this European Directive, spraying with herbicides replaces mechanical weed control, while insects are controlled by using natural enemies rather than insecticides. An example is the use of ladybugs against aphids.

However, IPM is more than just replacing chemical plant protection products by natural disease or plague control methods. It also embraces the use of resistant plant species and varieties in a healthy soil, as well as promoting biodiversity. Examples include hanging up nest boxes, introducing flower borders or small pools in a meadow, and applying anti-erosion methods to sloping terrain.

To further encourage IPM, the plant protection industry in Belgium has established two experimental farms. One farm is located in Huldenberg (Flanders) and results from a partnership between farmers Josse and Jan Peeters and Bayer CropScience. The other experimental farm is located in Ittre (Wallonia) and is the result of cooperation between farmer Ferdinand Joly and Syngenta. The two experimental farms use several IPM methods and demonstrate them to stakeholders, politicians and competent authorities, but also to the press and other farmers.

What can you see in these farms?

  • how creating micro-dams between potato rows can help prevent erosion;
  • how hanging up falcon nest boxes on a fruit farm can help control the mice population;
  • how pheromones can be used to confuse the harmful fruit moth so that it stops procreating. These pheromones have made the use of insecticides against the fruit moth superfluous;
  • how a phytocontainer can process residual water remaining after spraying with plant protection products, so that the processed residue can be recycled on site and no longer ends up in the water;
  • how crop rotation forms a natural barrier against soil insects and diseases. The principle of crop rotation is to grow a specific crop on a specific piece of land no more than once every 3 to 4 years. Crop rotation helps towards healthier crops but also towards reduced use of plant protection products.

The tours arranged at the demonstration farms allow farmers and other interested parties to find out, on site, about the different methods available, how they are applied and what is their added value.

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