Bayer and Luke have a long history in collaborating in the area of testing plant protection products. Throughout the years the co-operation has become more efficient. Biological substances are the latest tools in plant protection. Biological products need to be validated in various conditions of use and Luke provides Bayer with important services. As a result, Bayer gets an overall knowledge of the products’ behavior in Finnish climate and growing conditions.
The Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) and Bayer have been engaged in close co-operation long before Luke was founded. Pentti Ruuttunen, a research scientist at Luke, has been involved in testing plant protection products since the 1990s: “Testing used to be more cumbersome than it is today. Companies were not in direct contact with research institutes, but instead there were government authorities and regulators in between. Since the beginning of 2000 things have changed for the better. Now we can discuss directly with the companies and carry out carefully tailored field trials, in which both the properties of the products and the Finnish growing conditions are taken into account.”
Testing products is laborious but necessary
Organizing testing and trials means a lot of work. Klaus Heltbech, agronomic solution manager from Bayer, describes a typical trial: “It is not enough to visit the field once or twice. Instead, you have to go there many times during a growing season, turn many leaves and count many weeds, and assess the biological effects carefully. There can be for example more than 60 plots in one trial and sometimes the trial spans two growing seasons. We calculated that in the past five years we have carried out some 160 trials with Luke, amounting to around 7500 plots altogether.”
Heltbech continues: “Regulations are EU-wide, and The European Union is probably the strictest area globally when it comes to regulations. At the same time, Europe is a diverse continent with many different climate zones. Finnish conditions differ from German or Spanish conditions. That is why we need local operators. Luke is a very relevant partner for us in this sense.”
Biological products replacing chemical ones
One important trend currently shaping the world of plant protection is the rise of biological products. Traditionally these substances have played a minor role, but this is likely to change. A general tendency is that the documentation needed is increasing for a plant protection product to obtain approval by the regulators. Also, there is a strong intention in the EU to reduce the use of traditional plant protection products in food production. Furthermore, organic farming is becoming more common. Unlike chemical products, many biological products are acceptable in organic farming.
Bayer has a system called Scout for collecting and storing the data. Scout also provides an interface for collaborating with Luke. “This uniform reporting system has not only streamlined our work, but also improved the quality of our results”, sums Ruuttunen.
“It is not easy to replace chemicals in agriculture, because they function well and contribute much. This is why investigating also biological substances and constantly improving solutions is important. And indeed, biology differs from one climate to another. Luke’s knowledge of Finnish conditions provides us with valuable insights”, tells Heltbech.