We talk to Agata Stolarska, President of the Management Board of Timac Agro Polska, about how scientific research and innovation translate into qualitative, profitable crops without soil degradation.
How do you support Polish farmers in implementing the principles of sustainable agriculture?
Respect for the environment, both in the use of our products as well as at every stage of production, is in our DNA. For 60 years, we have been basing our business strategy on innovation in the field of sustainable nutrition of plants and animals. The effect of this approach is reflected in our offer – our customers are offered solutions that are a response to the climate crisis and intense environmental degradation.
This policy is very consistent with the European Green Deal, which aims to transform the European Union into a climate-neutral area and, through the Farm to Fork Strategy, to provide consumers with healthy, sustainable food, which cannot be achieved without a change in the approach to fertilization and plant protection.
Not only our products, but also our model of cooperation with farms, with business partners, with the world of science, involves the implementation and use of preparations based on reliable analysis of the situation on the farm, in order to effectively manage resources and reduce the impact on the natural environment. Through this action, we directly support both farms that adapt to the requirements of the European Green Deal, as well as those that implement the ideas of sustainable agriculture, and since we also have products approved for use in organic farming, we also support the most demanding entities.
We support food producers at the very beginning of the process – that is, in the field. It is where everything begins and ends in a way. Our technical and commercial advisors reach over 600 farms a day, choosing carefully sustainable patterns of plant and animal nutrition so that they can produce not only more, but also healthier.
The competences of our field advisors, equipped with the necessary knowledge and tools (such as pH meter, fluorimeter, EC meter or soil scanner) help to choose appropriate recommendations, tailored to the needs of a given crop, in specific soil conditions and based on the balance of nutrients that we have at our disposal on a given farm. Our products, in addition to carefully selected raw materials, also contain a number of biostimulating substances of plant and mineral origin the role of which is to better uptake and use of nutrients by the plant and to maintain the correct soil culture. Thanks to such comprehensive solutions, we reduce the loss of nutrients and increase their efficiency which in turn allows us to reduce their consumption. I think we are aware today that often “less is more” and the doses of fertilizers are very often increased without any specific justification.
What do you think sustainable plant nutrition is?
Sustainable nutrition is primarily one that allows you to cover the nutritional needs of plants at a level that gives a profitable, high-quality crop, without a negative impact on the natural environment and humans. The use of natural and mineral fertilisers should ensure the appropriate use of nutrients so as to limit their losses.
The key principles that should be followed in a sustainable plant nutrition system is the pursuit of the maximum use of nutrients from all sources on the farm, taking care of soil fertility (pH, fertility, humus content, biological activity) and precise determination of fertilizer doses based on soil analyses.
What is plant stress, what does it involve and how to prevent it?
Plant stress is the reaction of plants to adverse environmental factors (so-called stressors) that negatively affect the development of plants limiting their yield, and in extreme conditions can even lead to plant dieback. In principle, any abiotic element, such as water, temperature, minerals etc. in excess or deficiency, can cause stress. The same applies to biotic factors such as plant diseases and pests – they are also stressors that cause a series of biochemical reactions and, consequently, permanent plant damage. In the context of climate change, but also limiting the availability of many plant protection products, the most important challenge is to build as healthy and resistant plant as possible, because only such a plant can cope with stressful conditions.
How to cope? Although plants are devoid of emotion, as in the case of human health, the principle of “prevention is better than cure” is confirmed. Therefore, we can support plants by stimulating them with substances of natural origin. I am thinking here exactly about biostimulation based on the mechanisms of fighting abiotic stress. We have a number of such products, containing extracts from marine algae which, in addition to the highest yield potential in the plant world, have extraordinary resistance to stress conditions and regenerative abilities. We managed to extract them and capture them in such a formula that each complex stimulates the crops on which it will be applied, thus supporting the natural defense mechanisms of plants.
Can you say more about the profitability of agricultural production in the context of organic and sustainable farming?
I believe that organic farming can be quite a large alternative to conventional agriculture, provided that it is profitable, of course. In this respect, the potential in Poland is really huge – you just need to see how quickly the “ECO” department is growing in any large important network. The IQS report “Bio ‒ a market opportunity” shows that products marked “bio” are occasionally purchased by 67% of consumers, and regularly by 19% of them. Not only the EC which establishes the ambitious “Farm to Fork” plan with the goal of achieving 25% of crops in the organic farming system by 2030, but also conscious consumers make this trend continue for a long time.
Does it pay off? The answer cannot be unequivocal because in every farm we have a different situation. Internally, at Timac Agro, we are talking about the so-called “eco-productiv” farms, i.e. profit-oriented farms where hectares with crops cultivated as eco are intended for sale, not for the subsidies. There are many organizations, such as Biopomorze which bring together those farms that see the sense of such a model of agriculture and achieve measurable profits. Contrary to popular belief, these are not only farms focused on the production of vegetables, fruits or eggs. Increasingly, the eco crops are cereals for which the domestic and European markets are currently expanding. Today, these manufacturers are looking for solutions, knowledge, support and products from companies such as Timac Agro.
What challenges do you face every day when dealing with Polish farmers?
The basic challenges and problems of Polish farmers are, contrary to appearances, very similar to farmers all over Europe. Starting from the problems of production outdoors, through the availability of labor resources, and ending with the ever-changing legislative environment.
As every farm is an enterprise and it is governed by the same laws of economics, every farmer would like to produce as much of quality crop (or milk, or meat) as possible, with the lowest possible expenditures in terms of money and time. I think that awareness, knowledge, the degree of modernization of our native farms, as compared to Europe is very high and is constantly growing. Our role and the main challenge as a company is to provide the farm with solutions that will allow it, with limited risk, to achieve a profitable, qualitative yield without degrading the soil which is the workshop managed by the farmer.
We also encounter more and more often the need to help farmers with running plantations in terms of setting up technologies for plant nutrition and restoring soil to high culture. We offer high-quality service on the basis of which we draw both general and specific conclusions tailored to the specific conditions of the region, the farm and the cultivation. Still a topical issue is to increase the efficiency of the use of nutrients at different pH, nitrogen management, supporting plants in emergence, good rooting and regeneration. Our year-round presence in the fields allows us to make rational decisions to build a crop while maintaining balance in the environment.
What role do your research and development play in preventing the loss of soil fertility and biodiversity?
The Roullier Group originates from Brittany, a region of France located on the Breton Peninsula, on the Atlantic Ocean, with the largest tides in Europe, and an amazing variety of marine algae. In agricultural terms, it is a region that produces almost 50% of French fattening pigs and 20% of milk (first place in domestic production). Among other things, it’s the intensive animal production that has led to soil degradation in this region – a bit like in Greater Poland – which is why today in Brittany, where soils are predominantly very acidic and acidic with poor biological activity, we are working to restore them to the most natural state possible.
Due to our roots, maintaining the fertility of the soil at a high level and providing plants with substances supporting their vigor in order to maximize the genetic potential of plant yielding has become the main challenge of the company’s founder – Daniel Roullier who, being both a sea enthusiast and a farmer, decided to explore the secrets of marine algae – plants which, being practically constantly under the influence of abiotic stressors, develop and achieve impressive yields.
Algae are an extremely rich source of biologically active substances stimulating plants for effective mineral nutrition, photosynthesis and biomass growth. Used by Breton farmers for decades, in calcified form, they were a great soil activator. Based on the observation of these practices, the first of our laboratories was established to study the properties of these plants in the context of restoring the biological activity of the soil and plant biostimulation. After over 60 years of research in cooperation with scientists and laboratories from around the world we have a unique research center, located in Saint Malo.
With its scientific staff and research methods implemented in CMI’s experimental greenhouses and laboratories, the The Roullier Global Innovation Center is a significant knowledge center in the field of plant and animal nutrition, paving the way for future global agriculture.
Today, we proudly speak of considerable scientific achievements which translate into over 300 patents used in our products intended for both plants and animals. Also in Poland we cooperate with several universities with which we test new solutions, inspiring ourselves together. An example can be cooperation with the Faculty of Horticulture, Biotechnology and Landscape Architecture of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, where one of our colleagues is carrying out an implementation doctorate using our preparations, assessing the effect of biostimulating fertilizers and phytohormone precursors in terms of minimizing the impact of abiotic stress on the quality, the yield and the health of blueberry fruit.
Thank you for the interview!