Cultivation for Compounds; Interview with Juliette Pijnakker of Biobest Group

Published on 17/02/2023

Cultivation for Compounds (CfC) is a consortium committed to a four-year research and representation program on cannabis cultivation. For more in-depth information about this project please check this article. One of the fifteen companies involved is Biobest Group, a Belgium company with 24 subsidiaries and more than 120 distributors in almost 70 countries. Biobest is an expert in pollination and biocontrol, and therefore focuses on biological control in cannabis cultivation for the CfC. For this article, we interviewed Juliette Pijnakker, the Senior R&D of Biobest Group in this project. Therefore, this article will focus on the answers received from Juliette to the following questions; why Biobest decided to join the CfC, how the project is going until now, and what struggles they have experienced until now. In addition, what Biobest is researching and what is the final aim to be reached for their part.

Juliette started the discussion with an explanation of the involvement of Biobest in the CfC; “Large scale cannabis cultivations are new for the Netherlands, but it has been for us a booming business  abroad the last years. Most of our biocontrol strategies were developed for vegetable crops and later tailored for ornamentals. We have now to reinvent them for pesticide-free high-tech cannabis crops.” Juliette mentioned that as a company Biobest is aimed at innovations; “we are trying to come with new beneficials and new concepts to differentiate us from other companies. That is why CfC is a huge opportunity for us. We innovate in pest control and we get to work with partners who are all experts in their own business fields. Of course, we have to discuss a lot to maintain agreements and sometimes make compromises, but the consortium is very well organized; weekly meetings are taking place. All the parties can express their wishes, until everyone is satisfied.

Biocontrol strategies in cannabis differ per country according to pest pressure, the local pesticide regulations, and the registration of biological agents. “In the Netherlands, I will expect a high pest pressure in cannabis in the future due to the high concentration of greenhouses and their proximity”.

Juliette drew attention to the importance of having research done in research stations. “When we perform trials at growers, we are clearly limited. We can’t take any risks with introducing pests or diseases and keep untreated plots.”

Focusing on the research Biobest Group is doing now at the CfC, Juliette mentioned that they test IPM strategies, and they study in more detail biological control of powdery mildew. Powdery mildew can be a huge problem for cannabis cultivation, so this is our first goal. The powdery mildew found on our plants has been identified by Wageningen UR Greenhouse Horticulture and flower bulbs as Golovinomyces cichoracearum.” Therefore, by the end of the project, Biobest is aiming to achieve a solution for the growers that will allow them to avoid sulfur use; “Sulfur has a negative impact on most beneficials and can be also problematic for the workers and greenhouse structures.”

Biobest does not have a ready-in-advance planning for all 16 cycles, and according to Juliette the reason for it is that we are deciding on the following trials step-by-step after analyzing the results of the previous trials, trying to improve the concept further.” Now the 4th cultivation cycle is starting, and at the moment the focus is still on powdery mildew as well as the general IPM cultivation strategy.

With CfC, Biobest has the opportunity to test their products and come up with clear data regarding cannabis, and not only with relationship to Powdery mildew. It will help the company to fine-tune the full biological control strategy for this crop. “We have a clear idea of how we would like to manage pests and diseases in cannabis in the Netherlands thanks to the expertise of our colleagues from abroad, but sometimes unexpected results can bring up surprising new discoveries I am confident that at the end of the project, we will come up with a strong strategy.”

* Cultivation for Compounds is partly funded by PPS surcharge for research and innovation from the Ministry of Economic affairs and climate.

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