Press release Agro-Incubator in Nevele launched

19/10/2021
Dhont with Minister Crevits

Center of innovative crop development for sustainable agriculture

Deputy Prime Minister of the Flemish Government and Flemish Minister of Innovation and Agriculture Hilde Crevits has opened the research greenhouse and pilot infrastructure for plant research "Agro-Incubator" in Nevele. Previously, the greenhouse complex belonged to BASF. Now it is owned by VIB, with ILVO as a strategic partner, and with financial support from the Flemish government. "The high-tech facility here makes its resources and knowledge fully available to agribusinesses and researchers, to build together on sustainable agricultural applications.

Automatic phenotyping

The VIB Agro-Incubator has all the facilities to do high quality research on crops. The greenhouses are equipped with a high-tech installation for controlled growth of different types of crops and simultaneous monitoring of their growth. Among other things, scientists can determine light and watering conditions under which the plants grow. Cameras and measuring devices are used to calculate agronomically important parameters such as seed yield. On-site labs allow these observations to be linked to molecular information. That approach creates a detailed understanding of how plants adapt their growth under changing conditions. In addition, the adjacent field is available for field trials to confirm findings from the lab and greenhouse.

Collaboration VIB and ILVO

The VIB Agro-Incubator is located on the former CropDesign site (BASF) and is being fully modernized by VIB with the support of the Flemish government, in consultation with ILVO, Flanders Reserach Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Both institutes will lead the site with their expertise. This initiative is therefore a strong example of relaunch in practice.

Research for climate-robust agriculture

The complete infrastructure allows researchers to determine how a plant reacts to, for example, long periods of drought, and how the plant can become more resilient to this type of stress. One example is the collaboration between VIB and the Meise Botanical Garden to gather information on the drought tolerance of beans, the main ingredient in the diets of millions of people worldwide. The partnership is testing some 200 wild bean varieties for drought resistance. By combining observations of plant growth under different regimes of watering with data at the molecular level, researchers are learning which genes in plant DNA are responsible for drought resistance. Once the underlying mechanisms of plant growth under drought conditions are unraveled, the findings can be translated to other food crops such as soy or corn, and contribute to climate-sustainable solutions.

First business partnerships already signed

One of the facility's key partners is Inari Agriculture, a growing AgTech start-up focused on ecological solutions to increase crop yields for a more sustainable food system. Inari received the 2020 Newcomer of the Year trophy from Flanders Investment & Trade for their accelerated method of developing high-yield crops that require less fertilizer and water. Experts at the company use the greenhouse at the VIB Agro-Incubator to grow and study plants developed at the company's Ghent-based R&D facility.

"We know that VIB is as committed to reforming the global food system as we are at Inari; this makes them an ideal partner," says Fred van Ex, vice president of R&D at Inari and managing director of the Inari facility in Ghent. "To meet the ambitious goals of the European Union's Farm to Fork strategy, close partnerships between the public and private sectors with technologically advanced facilities are needed. The combination of Inari SEEDesign™ technology and the VIB Agro-Incubator offers just that."

The strategic location in the center of the Flemish agribiotech cluster in Ghent leads to unique collaborations between research centers and companies. Their common goal is to develop innovative agricultural solutions. Besides projects with well-known players such as SESVanderHave and Inari, who work on improving sugar beet and maize cultivation, respectively, VIB wants to make the technology and knowledge of the Agro-Incubator accessible to start-ups. Providing facilities and support to young entrepreneurs gives them the opportunity to develop in the plant biotech sector. The focus here, more than ever, is on climate adaptation, crop protection and cutting-edge, digital agricultural technologies.

"SESVanderHave is proud to partner with the VIB Agro-Incubator and leverage cutting-edge technology to improve sugar beets for future agricultural challenges," says Hendrik Tschoep, R&D director at SESVanderHave.

This VIB press release is accompanied by free high-resolution photos.

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