Nicolas Body: Natural solutions for healthier crops
With worldwide consumer demand for chemical residual-free fruits and vegetables on the rise, it is more important now than ever for producers to use natural solutions to produce more food of a better quality. Nicolas Body, Alltech Crop Science European technical manager, details Alltech’s global trials on industrial crops and how natural solutions, such as biostimulants, have increased the genetic potential of plants.
The following is an edited transcript of Kara Keeton’s interview with Nicolas Body. Click below to hear the full audio.
Kara: Nicolas Body, Alltech Crop Science’s European technical manager, is here today to talk about the “Alltech effect” and results from the field. Thank you for joining me today, Nicolas.
Nicolas: Thanks for inviting me.
Kara: Alltech has trials set up around the world for crop science research. Why is it so important to have active trials globally?
Nicolas: This is connected to the way Alltech operates. We look at today's farming problems and we try to find innovative, natural solutions. The trials are the best way to integrate this innovation into the farmers' practices, day in and day out, and to showcase how it can impact their bottom line at the end — the profitability of the farm.
Kara: Which is, of course, a priority for every farmer and every agricultural business. In regards to research trials, I know that Alltech has had trials in Europe and California to look at the complex fungal disease attacking wood. What have been the initial results of those trials?
Nicolas: This trial is very exciting because we are totally changing the approach on esca, the wood disease you are referring to. We focus on the plant health and not the pathogen. That's not the way farmers have been doing it in the past. Our results have shown that we can have grapevines that are fighting back the pathogen by themselves. They are stopping the development of the disease and the spread of the disease, and they are still producing healthy grapes. We have the same approach for citrus greening, for example. That would be well-known in the states, especially in Florida, where we're using the same technologies to help the plant fight back on that issue.
Kara: So, the approach is to take preventative measures instead of reactive measures to these diseases in this research, right?
Nicolas: Yes, exactly. We discovered through our nutrigenomic research that we can elicit the natural defense of the plant, and inducing that resistance allows for the plant to not be totally under the pressure of the disease and to stay healthy, even if the disease is present in the field.
Kara: That's a wonderful approach. Consumers worldwide are demanding residual-free vegetables and fruit products. I understand recent trials have explored ways to better meet this consumer demand.
Nicolas: On this subject, it is clear that the consumer is driving the changes. We do trials here to show to the farmers that we have solutions for them to meet that consumer demand. For example, the producers that are already engaged in reduction of their chemical residues found at harvest, on the fruits and vegetables, down to zero residues, which is the norm for baby food, for example. Our natural alternatives are of great value. In these trials, we want to show that it's working already and that the farmers can feel confident using them on their farms. And with the help of other tools to assess what are the different issues, they can get the best of all the different tools they have in their toolbox.
Kara: Again, this is another tool to help our farmers and agribusinesses improve their bottom line, which is what they're looking for, as well as providing a healthy product to consumers.
Nicolas: I think the new step here is not only the bottom line; it's also the possibility for the farmer to engage with the consumer on these practices — the fact he is using natural technologies, the fact that he is avoiding chemical residues. If he is using one molecule, that's because there is one specific problem and he has no choice. I think these natural options are a good way to increase the transparency and educate the consumer, at the end.
Kara: What exactly are biostimulants, and what benefit can they provide to industrial crop farmers?
Nicolas: The global definition of biostimulant that has been accepted is — they are defined as products from natural origins that are stimulating the plant growth, but with a mode of action that differs from a fertilizer. They would be to the plant what coffee is to me. It allows me to perform, but it's not bringing any nutritional value. I cannot live on coffee. The two together — a good fertilizer program and a biostimulant product, used at exactly the right time — allow for the plant to be at its best genetic potential, and that's where we get the best fruits, a good uniformity among the different fruits or vegetables, and a better quality of them, as well.
On industrial crops, like tomatoes and potatoes, where we are positioning our biostimulant with a lot of success, we are increasing the quality characteristics of these crops. We will see better uniformity — more, bigger tubers on the potatoes for French fries, for example. We'll have more sugar and better color on tomatoes. We would see more oil out of olives, using a biostimulant at the right time.
Kara: There are many technologies out there that Alltech is researching in the crop science field. How are these advancements changing the future of farming around the world?
Nicolas: Biotechnology, the way Alltech is doing it — based on natural solutions derived from microbial solutions — is clearly helping us produce more nutritious food for a growing planet while being less dependent on chemical solutions, so we are changing the world to be more natural and produce more food of a better quality. I think that's what everyone wants globally.
Kara: Consumers are definitely concerned about where their food comes from, and they're concerned that it would be raised naturally. Are there exciting research projects out there that would build upon what Alltech is currently doing, and maybe interesting research for the future in this field?
Nicolas: We are on many exciting projects. One subject I think that's worth knowing from the consumer standpoint, but also from all the producers, is what I call the Brown Revolution — the focus we have on soil health and how we can foster all the beneficial microbes that are in our soil in order to get the best out of our fields. That's an area where we, I would say, focus 50% of our research today in order to discover how the microbes are working in the soil and how using these microbes and all the molecules they produce in the soil, is impacting the plant growth and, at the end, the yield of the product. Taking care of the soil is very important for future generations, and we don’t want to be producing more food while we are depleting our soil and not be able to do that in the long run.
Kara: The Alltech Crop Science research team is taking care of the soil, looking at ways to produce healthier crops around the world, and we thank you for taking time today to talk with us about the research and everything that Alltech is doing in crop science.
Nicolas: Thanks a lot.
Kara: That was Nicolas Body, Alltech Crop Science European technical manager.