Like MPS, Vertify, one of the most important agricultural research centres in the Netherlands, focuses on sustainability. They do so in both the food-producing and ornamental horticulture sectors. All the activities are focused on the plants: how do you keep them healthy? “Every facet of research is aimed at enabling the plant to perform optimally,” explains Johan Kos, Vertify’s managing director.

Vertify has traditionally been a major player in the bulb sector: “From tulips to lilies and from hyacinths to crocuses. We have a unique international position in this field,” says Kos. Vertify also conducts numerous trials in the ornamental horticulture sector, for example on crop protection. “How do you deal with whitefly in poinsettias, or thrips in chrysanthemums? We carry out that kind of research together with the sector, sometimes also in public-private partnerships.”

Cut flowers grown in water
Kos highlights one of the many ongoing research projects: cut flower cultivation in water. “Thirty years ago we started with chicory in water, twenty years ago tulips, and then lettuce too. And for several years now we have been studying the cultivation of chrysanthemums, Matricaria and Lisianthus in water.” By growing these kinds of soil-based crops in water, you no longer have to use crop protection agents against Pythium, for example. The process of steaming the soil can also be skipped.

A lot of research is also being done in tulip cultivation. “We’re now looking specifically at reducing use of crop protection agents. Growers are paying closer attention to what the right time is to use them, instead of simply spraying “blindly”. That depends on factors such as the weather and the crop itself – so you can see a move towards the use of more data to determine what is needed and the optimum time of application.”

Directly applicable knowledge
It can be hard to get business owners to work with the new knowledge gained from such research. What helps is that Vertify does not express vague ideas; rather they offer concrete insights that growers can apply to their business almost immediately. “In doing so, we look closely at non-chemical substances and beneficial organisms, netting to reduce pressure from outside, and water systems to combat pests and diseases. It’s all about reducing the use of crop protection agents.”

Johan Kos

Research and certification: two sides of the same coin
The demand for more sustainable cultivation with a reduction in the use of fertilisers and crop protection agents has been an issue in food horticulture for a much longer time. “We have also seen a call for this in ornamental horticulture in the past four or five years. Environmentally friendly cultivation and certification are becoming increasingly important. Producing sustainably is a crucial aspect to us and it is important that this can be substantiated accordingly. You can do that with certification.”

Kos therefore thinks it’s good to see that there is a growing willingness to become certified. “Awareness is increasing, and all of us in the industry have an interest in it. At Vertify, we are getting more and more questions about solving technical problems in that area. This brings together knowledge from the grower, the project leader and the researchers.” In this way, Vertify’s research and MPS’s certification both contribute to making the sector more sustainable.