We invented the buzziness

30 years ago Biobest was founded by Dr. Roland De Jonghe, a Belgian veterinary with a passion for bumblebees. Soon after, Biobest was the first company to succeed in commercial bumblebee rearing. It did not take long before bumblebees proved to be a real technological breakthrough for greenhouse tomato growers. 30 years later, the company headquartered in Westerlo has become a global player in sustainable crop management as growers in more than 70 countries rely on Biobest products to grow a healthy and sustainable crop. Biobest is part of a vibrant and rapidly growing biocontrol and pollination industry, which is still tiny compared to the agrochemical industry, but thriving. This is a great time to highlight the crucial role that bumblebees have played in the development of this industry. Read on and discover why it’s more than fair to say that “we invented the buzziness” and how we feel inspired by the example of our founder to keep reinventing it.

How bio got buzzing

Today, the environmental and health impact of pesticides makes regular news headlines. Neonicotinoids, glyphosate and other chemicals: we bet you follow it in the news. While still far too widely used in the open field, for horticultural products in greenhouses, thanks to the pressure of consumers, retailers and stricter legislation, pesticide use has been cut back seriously. When we introduced bumblebees back in the late 80’s, chemical control in greenhouses was still the norm. The first challenge to get the bees to deliver their full impact on yield and quality (40% more yield is not uncommon) was to avoid them from being killed by chemicals. Being one of the first insects introduced by growers, bees triggered a gradual awareness among tomato growers to use fewer pesticides and, if pesticides couldn’t be avoided, to opt for less toxic and persistent products. Biobest invested in research around “side-effects” of pesticides on bumblebees and developed a strong expertise. Against this background, growers who at that time were rarely ready to go for biological control, started viewing biological control as a means to provide a proper working environment to their bees. And if your bees deserve a healthy setting, you’re more likely to realize that the people working in the greenhouse also deserve it.
“We invented the buzziness” really sums up nicely how the bees played a crucial role in preparing the growers for biological control. It is our firm conviction that, without bumblebees, the biological control industry would not have been where it stands today.

The bio buzz spreads

What started in tomato is now common in most of protected horticulture. In different types of vegetables and soft fruits, also in ornamental crops, sustainable production and biological control is high on the agenda. Also when a crop does not need bumblebees because pollination is not important, there are today many reasons to use biological control in Integrated Pest Management or even to go for organic production. Consumer and retailer pressure and stricter laws certainly are key, but in many cases it’s just plainly more efficient to use natural solutions than to spray products against which pests are rapidly developing resistance. Even with a higher dosage it becomes difficult to control the pest. Growers who master the art of fostering a natural equilibrium in the crop, with the help of our advisors, avoid unnecessary plant stress due to chemical applications and grow a higher quality crop with higher yield. Day by day, we invent the buzziness with them. We strive to offer growers a complete set of natural solutions by introducing new biocontrol agents or by developing more effective release and introduction methods. As an example, Biobest pioneered the use of food supplements to preventatively establish a strong army of predatory mites in the crop.

New frontiers

Many developments in biocontrol in horticulture started in Europe, North America and the Far East. Our industry and indeed our company is now spreading its wings across the globe. Growers in other continents are developing their expertise in biological control. Often, in Africa and South America, biocontrol first gains ground in export crops. However, we are convinced that consumer awareness about healthy products will gradually get on the agenda also for the local market. That’s why we are happy to have made significant steps with entering the market in Africa through the acquisition of Real IPM Kenya. We have also made a start in China and are looking at opportunities in South America. And often our old trick still works. In many parts of the world we have played a pioneering role in bringing local bumblebees to the market. We did it in Turkey and Mexico. We’re doing it in South America and China. Once again, bumblebees have their role to play in opening the door for bio. We’re buzzing and we’ll get bio buzzing as well. So, even after 30 years, we keep inventing the buzziness and we are confident our pioneering spirit will be needed for quite some time.  

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