Bayer's innovations in banana production sustainability

There are a number of threats challenging the daily farm operations of banana producers in Asia and Latin America. At the 6th International Banana Congress, which took place from April 19 to 22, 2016 in Miami, Florida, USA, Bayer showcased its portfolio of products and solutions that support the success and sustainability of the banana industry. Experts from the company presented recent product innovations in the area of disease and pest control and root health management as well as novel approaches that contribute to safeguarding a high-quality fruit supply. 

“Fungal diseases and nematodes are giving banana growers around the globe a hard time. We are committed to supporting them in addressing their daily challenges as they strive to get the very best out of their plantations,” said Kai Wirtz, Global Fruit Crop Manager at the Crop Science division of Bayer.

Gil de Diego Salas (Grupo Calinda, middle) and Julian Picado (Bayer, right) examine freshly harvested bananas at a plantation in Costa Rica.

Innovative approaches in root health management

Bayer’s banana experts focus on developing holistic solutions for root health management as this is a growing concern of producers. A stressed and damaged root-system can reduce the vigor of plants, negatively impact the quality of harvested produce and lead to significant yield losses. Scientists at Bayer are addressing this new area of research to better understand the complex processes in the soil and develop new solutions to effectively control nematodes, soil-borne pathogens and soil pests and strengthen the roots.

“In Velum™/Verango™ and BioAct™, Bayer already offers two powerful products for targeted nematode management that perfectly complement each other,” stated Wirtz. “The chemical product Velum™/Verango™ effectively controls living nematodes in the soil. This product is combined with BioAct™, which is based on a natural organism – the soil fungus Purpureocillium lilacinum strain 251. BioAct™ colonizes nematode eggs so that hatching of larvae is inhibited. Consequently, if the chemical treatment has already been applied to remove adult nematodes from the soil, using the biological substance prevents a new generation of nematodes from growing and damaging the plant at a later stage. This combination offers growers effective means of nematode management by applying both products just once per year,” Wirtz further explained. 

Novel concept to address Black Sigatoka

Another threat for banana producers is Black Sigatoka. Caused by Mycosphaerella fijiensis, it is the most devastating disease in bananas and present in all banana-producing countries. Without proper treatment it can lead to reduced productivity of up to 50 percent and increase the risk of fungicide resistance. As a result, the number of fungicide applications have increased in recent years with strong economic, environmental and social impacts – threatening the sustainability of banana production. 

With its ‘Bunch of Solutions’ concept Bayer has developed an approach to ensure high-level disease control and at the same time reduce the number of applications and crop protection input costs for growers. “Due to the combination of chemical and biological products and several different modes of action in rotational programs, we have created a powerful tool for resistance management,” explained Alvaro Segura, technical expert for bananas in Central America at Bayer’s Crop Science division. “This innovative concept can help reverse the current trend of increasing fungicide applications and has already proven to be a valuable tool to make banana production more sustainable in Central America.”

Partnering along the value chain 

To ensure the supply of high-quality bananas that are produced in a sustainable way, Bayer collaborates with food chain partners along the banana value chain from growers to traders and retailers. One successful example is an ongoing cooperation with a banana producer in the Dominican Republic who works according to organic farming principles. “This partnership reflects Bayer’s holistic approach in sustainable agriculture”, said Rigoberto Estrada, Crop Manager Banana in Pacto Andino and Central America at Bayer. “We offer this partner a high-quality portfolio of biological crop protection products backed by training measures, demo plots and a stewardship program. The partner benefits from a reduced number of product applications to control Black Sigatoka as well as banana pests like thrips and nematodes.”

Another example of a Food Chain Partnership is the project with Grupo Acon, the largest independent producer of bananas in Costa Rica. The key target is the sustainable production of bananas for European export markets with high-quality standards and a beneficial impact on both the environment and surrounding communities. “In this partnership we employ a tailored and integrated solution of chemical and biological products that offer efficient nematode control, ensure root health, manage Black Sigatoka and control weeds,” explained Estrada. “In addition to these efforts, the project includes an intensive stewardship program to train the banana growers in the correct handling of crop protection products and the right follow-up of the applications. Furthermore, technical support is provided on-site to help achieve the sustainability goals. As a result of the project, sustainable banana production has gained more credibility and exposure amongst involved banana growers and their commitment has grown.”

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