Due to the progressive introduction of biological crop protection, the use of pesticides and other chemical agents in agriculture has declined by 50 to 90 percent over the past 50 years. This important change has been possible thanks to the introduction of wasps and predatory mites, bacteria and fungi, among other biological agents used for the natural control of pests and diseases in both protected and open ground crops. The use of pesticides has decreased especially in the cultivation of tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers. In recent years, biological solutions have also been increasingly used in the treatment of seeds, extensive crops, fruit crops and ornamental plants.
The growing importance of food safety and the need for a sustainable and responsible agriculture have fuelled the use of biological crop protection. This is confirmed by studies carried out by the Dutch family business Koppert Biological Systems, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017. In those five decades devoted to sustainable and resource-friendly agriculture, Koppert has gone from being a small and restless company with four employees to becoming a multinational with an annual turnover of 190 million Euro and 1,200 employees in 26 different countries, including China, Brazil, the US and Russia. Koppert Biological Systems currently exports to more than 90 countries.
Its founder, Jan Koppert, started with a single insect in 1967. A predatory mite to control a red spider pest in cucumber crops was the humble beginnings of an enthralling personal and business adventure. Today, Koppert is a world market leader in biological crop protection in horticulture and produces mites, insects, microorganisms, plant extracts, bacteria and fungi.
Moreover, since 1988, Koppert has been one of the most important promoters of natural pollination with bumblebees. Since the first prototype of the NATUPOL beehive, the company has developed important innovations to facilitate the use of bumblebees and to increase the efficiency of pollination, even in adverse climatic conditions. Since the use of bumblebees is not compatible with many types of chemical crop protection, natural pollination has been another factor contributing to the significant worldwide decline in the use of chemical agents.
Open ground crops: the next challenge
Although many foods are produced in greenhouses, most of the world's food is still grown on open ground. In greenhouses, the conditions are easy to control, but outdoors it is more difficult to work with beneficial insects and microorganisms. Open ground growers continue to resort mainly to chemical control agents, despite the growing pressure from environmental and consumer organizations.
To respond to this huge challenge, Koppert is already producing and marketing beneficial microorganisms, such as fungi and bacteria, that are specific to open ground crops. The use of these microorganisms increases the resilience of crops and enriches the biodiversity and nutrient content of the soil. "Artificial fertilisers and chemical crop protection have been too dominant in recent years, affecting the soil life. This has to change and this is where fungi and bacteria can make a great contribution," explains Paul Koppert, a member of the company's Executive Board.
Thanks to a growing battery of biological solutions, Koppert assures that the use of chemical protection could be significantly reduced in open ground crops in the coming years. "We have to move towards an agriculture and horticulture in harmony with nature. We must obtain better and safer food while exerting less pressure on the environment. This is what we are trying to achieve every day with our work," affirms Henri Oosthoek, CEO of Koppert, who confirms that the growing demand for safe food around the world is already unstoppable.
Koppert is committed to playing an important role in the global debate to promote an increasingly sustainable agriculture. To achieve this goal, the company works together with scientists, universities and public administrations. On the occasion of its 50th anniversary, the company plans to hold numerous information and awareness activities to promote the need to change the current way of producing our food. Among the planned activities, it is worth mentioning the organization of an international congress in the Netherlands next September, which will bring together some of the greatest international experts in sustainable agriculture and biological control.