Biggest potato importer in the world
"Remarkably, a lot of fresh potatoes are also being imported. Belgium is the biggest importer of fresh potatoes in the world. In order to use more home-grown potatoes for the processed sector, the goal is to further increase production. The availability of enough potatoes as raw produce is essential. Despite much effort, potato cultivation still doesn't reach the maximum possible returns. The new iPot project is meant to help realize this. The Belgian potato acreage is already historically high: 80,000 hectares."
"iPot is a project with both partners from potato trade and processing (Belgapom) and researchers from Flanders and Wallonia (VITO, CRA-w and ULg), financed by Belspo, in which all available data will be brought together through observations from the ground, the sky and space, in an instrument to substantially increase yields of the Belgian potato cultivation. Precision farming is used in that. Information from various sources is combined: weather data, soil maps, ground observations, aerial images (with drones) and satellite images."
"So the purpose is efficient monitoring of the growth, development and yield of the potato crop on plot level. We cooperate on this with various parties, aggregating the data, which will be shared. The development phase lasts from June 2014 until December 2015. In the years thereafter, it will be demonstrated and optimized."
The team that presented the project. Left to right: Isabelle Piccard (Vito), Romain Cools (Belgapom), Jean Pierre Goffart (cra-w), Kris Nackaerts (Vito), Joost Vandenabeele (belspo), Viviane Planchon (cra-w)
The data collected by the iPot team, will ensure they're able to analyse cultivation at any given moment, and can intervene faster and better in case of problems. "If we know what growth stage the potatoes are in and what the estimated yield is, we can also use that well for planning and logistics," a Vito spokesperson said. "All in all, this project will ensure that we can follow up cultivation better, causing higher yields, volume- and quality-wise."
More and more contract cultivation
Also noted was that the potato sector was a completely free market 20 years ago, while it's mostly contract cultivation now. "At the moment, contract cultivation makes up about 60 to 70%", Romain says. "The free market is becoming smaller and smaller. Contracts form the basis of a stable partnership between growers, traders and processors."