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Innovative seeds worth their weight in gold

“New tomato variety seeds often cost more than gold.” Mr Maxime Verhagen, Minister of Economic Affairs, Agriculture & Innovation (EL&I) used this example to illustrate the great importance of agricultural research and innovation to the Dutch economy.

But which innovations are needed? What are the major tasks for the agriculture & food sector for the years to come? The Strategic Knowledge and Innovation Agenda (SKIA) provides answers to these important questions. Last week, the long-term agenda was presented to Mr Verhagen.

The agenda, which sets out the direction for the Ministry’s innovation policy, describes ten areas of focus linking trends to knowledge and innovation themes. Examples are: food security, green raw materials, making the economy more sustainable, health & welfare and the application of new technologies.

The subject of plant breeding features in many trends and innovation themes. For instance, the report discusses opportunities for green raw materials and the development of sustainable plant propagating material. Agribusiness, chemicals, the energy sector and the logistics sector need to explore the technical opportunities and the economic potential of plants together.

Greater synergy within the agro-food domain, and with other areas of knowledge (such as chemicals and human health), is essential for quality improvement in agricultural ecosystems.

In order to create breakthroughs, new technologies need to be heavily stimulated, without losing sight of proven technologies. That means investing in expertise in which the Netherlands specialises, such as seed improvement combined with gene technology, bioinformatics, nanotechnology and synthetic biology.

The innovation agenda also considers the growing demand for highly trained “young professionals” to keep up with technological developments, while the retention of experienced professionals is cited as an area of concern. The low profile of the sector and the resulting difficulties in recruiting staff represents a threat in terms of future labour potential.

Now we have the Strategic Knowledge and Innovation Agenda in our hands, it is time we invited the Minister, Mr Verhagen, and the State Secretary, Mr Bleker, to Seed Valley for a working visit …


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