Tom Vandenkendelaere will take over from Romain Cools as the new CEO of Belgapom starting January 2021
After a career spanning 30 years, Romain Cools, the secretary general of Belgapom, will say farewell to Belgapom, the Belgian potato trade & processing industry association. He will hand over to Tom Vandenkendelaere, who starting from January 2021 will become the new CEO of Belgapom, according to the organisation.
Tom Vandenkendelaere will also act as the director of FVPhouse, the service umbrella organisation of the potato, fruit and vegetable trade & processing associations.
Marc Van Herreweghe, General president of Belgapom says: ‘Romain Cools will remain active in an advisory role for his successor until 1 July 2021. He can look back on an exceptionally rich career. Over the past three decades he was active not only as the secretary general of Belgapom and the director of FVPhouse, but for 17 years was also the secretary general of Vegebe, the Belgian association for vegetable processing. In addition, he fulfilled a role as the secretary general of Europatat, the European federation for the potato trade (15 years), EUPPA, the European federation for the potato processing industry (8 years). Today, Romain Cools is also the chairman/CEO of the Canadian NGO World Potato Congress inc, a network platform for the global potato chain. Many will recognise that he is renowned in the agri-food world’.
Romain Cools: ‘I am grateful to look back on an extremely fascinating career and numerous contacts within the value chain. I am happy with my successor Tom whose commitment and drive mirrors my own.’
His successor Tom Vandenkendelaere acquired national fame as a MEP between 2014 and 2019. Today he is active as an interim elderman of Roeselare, to replace Minister Nathalie Muylle, and as an independent consultant for European agricultural policy. Tom Vandenkendelaere holds a PhD in international relations, was chairman of JONGCD&V and was active in the European Parliament in the committees on Agriculture, Economic and Monetary Affairs and Employment and Social Affairs. In the latter function he gained extensive knowledge of the Belgian potato sector when he actively followed the trade conflicts relating to the export of Belgian frozen potatoes. He also closely followed the issues of the potato sector in the reform of the European agricultural policy and for Brexit.
The arrival of Tom Vandenkendelaere is the exponent of the generational turnover that the entire sector is experiencing: “It is my ambition to further strengthen the growth of this Belgian number one sector, to protect its interests in the area of sustainability and simultaneously its strong position in the world and keep developing them. It is with great pride that I will devote myself to ‘our’ potato and the many products derived from it, the calling card of the Belgian agri-food sector if you ask me. With Romain Cools as my predecessor I have illustrious footsteps to follow in, but it is a challenge I am happy to accept. I am grateful for the opportunity to carefully prepare for the transition together, also in the interest of sector.’ ‘The only thing I won’t ask for his advice about is his farewell party. That should remain a surprise’ Vandenkendelaere concludes with a wink.
Too Good To Go launches the national campaign “SOS Patat : save the potatoes, eat fries”
l The international NGO Too Good To Go, working on food losses prevention, has launched a national campaign to urge Belgians to buy and consume an extra portion of frozen potato products. As such they could contribute to make some free place available in the frozen companies’ freezers to enable them to process extra tonnes of potatoes of the old crop while waiting for the global food service and hotels to reopen.
The pandemic had a devastating impact on the global potato processing industry as the largest part of the potato products is consumed out of home.
Belgium is proud of its national Belgian fries and has become the world’s largest exporter of frozen potato products.
Too Good To Go has set up this campaign in collaboration with Belpotato.be, Belgapom, Comeos and a number of retailers, Unizo, the Belgian potato processing industry and the promotion boards VLAM and APAQ-w.
At this moment a surplus of 750.000 tonnes of old crop potatoes has been estimated.
The industry is working intensively on a sustainable solution in a three step approach : food (the campaign SOS patat, distribution through food banks, exports), (animal) feed and finally green energy (bio methanization).
Contrary to certain rumors the Belgian potato farmers have not received any financial aid yet to deal with this problematic situation.
Early potatoes on the fresh market : why we also need imported earlies.
Consumers in Belgium will have noticed that in most supermarkets currently also packed early potatoes originating from the Mediterranean area are being offered. Also the Flemish media have spent attention to this.
Belgapom has presented the following explanation for this phenomenon :
1) Traditionally the fresh potato market in Belgium starts by the end of May / beginning of June by packing imported earlies originating from Cyprus, Israel and Malta. The consumer is looking to accompany his asparagus dish by early potatoes. After a number of weeks the origin of the early potatoes turns to Spain and Germany. Only in July and August early potatoes from Belgian appear on the shelves.
This can be explained by the fact that potatoes from the old crop destined to the fresh market are being stored in cold stores (avoiding chemical sprout suppressants such as CIPC), which results at the end of the storage season into modification in the starch patron of the crops. The cooking water gets a brown colour and potatoes get a sweet taste.
On top most of the firm cooking varieties of the old Belgian crop are sold out, partly because of the increased sales resulting from a higher level of home consumption of potatoes since the outbreak of the Corona crisis and the lockdown measures.
2) The segment of flowery cooking potatoes and potatoes for home fries from Belgian crop can under normal conditions be offered for a longer time. But due to the exceptional growing conditions during the last summer (heath and drought) the dry matter content in a lot of these varieties (fontane, challenger, and others) appears to be exceptional high, which is resulting into a lot of quality problems resulting from transport, sorting, washing and packing of the tubers (black spots under the skin).
These potatoes, stored in storage facilities at certain temperatures (also to mitigate the creation of acrylamide during frying), are in most cases perfect for transport and processing in factories into refrigerated or frozen products after only 3 hours.
As a consequence of this situation this season also flowery potatoes for cooking or frying originating from the Mediterranean countries will be found earlier than normal in the shelves of the Belgian supermarkets.
3) Belgian early potatoes will be available in the months of July and August. Also this crop is not always suited for packing and selling on the fresh market : the potatoes are being harvested ‘green’, which results in a very thin skin, which makes them not suited for sorting, washing and packing. Also these potatoes head to the factories to be washed, peeled, cut, fried and refrigerated. These early varieties are being used for fritery shops, restaurants and production of frozen products. Fresh early potatoes, with a thin skin from local production remain a niche product on Belgian markets, with a limited demand.
Belgian professional packers and their growers assure the consumers of a top product all year round. Despite falling back in the summer months (a period with a lower consumption of fresh potatoes) they are responsible for the fact that on annual basis more than 70 % of all purchased fresh potatoes are of Belgian origin (source : GfK / VLAM).
Belgian potato sector grows again in 2019. However, corona crisis will lay into the 2020 figures.
Growth again in 2019, above all in frozen fries
Last year, despite the difficult growing conditions as a result of the extreme heat and drought during both the 2018-2019 and the 2019-2020 seasons, the Belgian potato-processing industry once again improved the record for processed potatoes. Almost 5.3 million tonnes of potatoes processed into fries, mashed potato products, crisps, flakes and granules or precooked potatoes meant an increase of 3.8% compared to the figures for 2018.
This increase is mainly the result of a rise in the production of frozen fries.
In 2019, 2,231,000 tonnes of frozen fries were produced (an increase of 7.5 % compared to 2018). The production of fresh fries (230,314 tonnes) and other potato products (684,810 tonnes) fell slightly by 0.5 and 1.6 % respectively.
Rise in number of employees and high degree of investment for fourth successive year
In 2019, the number of employees in the sector rose from 4,762 to 4,991. Even if the investments last year did not round the cape of € 300 million, for the fourth successive year the sum of € 289,219,240 is in the same order of magnitude.
Above all frozen fries responsible for this increase
In 2019, too, the figures illustrated the Belgian potato chain’s dependence on the export of frozen potato products.
Belgium exported 2,680,086 tonnes of products, an increase of 8.1% compared to 2018. The value of these exports was € 1,935,181 million, which is 18.2 % more than last year. This increase may be due to the higher prices of raw materials, since 2019 was in the middle of 2 difficult growing seasons as a result of the dry and hot summers of 2018 and 2019.
What is remarkable about these statistics, is that Belgium is the only country amongst its neighbouring countries that showed an increase in exports in 2019.
What will 2020 bring?
The prospects for the 2020 season were positive. The potato market was in balance. Both the quotations on the free market and the contract prices offered the potato chain breathing space. The entire European potato sector was focussing on the new situation that had arisen as a result of the traditional sprout inhibitor, CIPC, losing its authorisation starting from the 2020-2021 season. Cleaning warehouses, new sampling methods and the application of new, natural sprout inhibitors filled the agendas of most meetings in the potato chain.
Until the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus in China led to everyone discovering the word “lockdown”. Containers were no longer unloaded in Chinese ports and this led to logistical problems for European potato exports. But when, mid March, the virus started to appear everywhere in Europe and local authorities proceeded with lockdowns, the problems kept mounting in the potato sector too. Restaurants and professional kitchens closed and after a short period of hoarding, the fall in demand in supermarkets became noticeable. At the beginning of April, the same approach was rolled out all over the world, so that above all the export of frozen products faced problems, first as a result of the closure of fast-food chains and later also on other markets.
No one knows how long this situation will drag on. The near future is one big question mark. However, it is already clear that the Covid-19 virus will really lay into the 2020 figures of this dynamic sector.
There is hope that step by step life will return to normal, which will also once again offer perspectives for the potato sector.
Interbranch organization for the potato sector takes off in Belgium
The Belgian potato sector has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. In 1990, around 500,000 tonnes of potatoes were processed into fries, puree products, chips or flakes and granulates. In the meantime, that volume has increased tenfold. Belgium is the largest exporter of frozen potatoes in the world. The growth of Belgian potato processing is also guaranteed for the future. The area of potatoes in Belgium has reached 100,000 ha in recent years. Potato cultivation is the engine of Belgian arable farming. The vast majority of the Belgian potato value chain - growers, traders, packers and processors - are family businesses. The sector faces many challenges. Only through cooperation within the chain can the sector adapt to the needs of the time and remain leading in the Belgian and world market. That's why Algemeen Boerensyndicaat (ABS), Belgapom, Boerenbond, Fiwap and Fédération Wallonne des Agriculteurs (FWA) join forces and set up Belpotato.be, the interbranch organization (IO) for Belgian potato growing and trade.
On January 20, the founding deed of Belpotato.be was officially signed in Huldenberg. The composition of the Executive Board ensures that there are balances between growers, traders and processors, and between Dutch and French speakers. Jean-Pierre van Puymbrouck becomes the first chairman. In the first working year, the secretariat is provided by Pierre Lebrun (Fiwap) and Kurt Cornelissen (PCA).
However, pending official establishment, the founding members have already made a list of priorities that should be addressed by Belpotato.be:
- The most important objective of the IO is to promote the sustainability of the sector (ecologically, economically and socially). Belpotato.be wants to further strengthen sustainability through innovation.
- The potato chain has enormous research and development needs in view of the rapid social developments, the complexity of the cultivation, the strict requirements as a raw material, the impact on the environment, ... At present, research in Belgium is insufficient in proportion to the economic importance of the potato. Existing actions among various institutions lack coherence or can respond better to the needs of the chain. Belpotato.be therefore wants to strive for more resources for research and development and better alignment with the real needs of the sector and its sustainability.
- Belgium is currently (too) dependent on foreign countries for seed potatoes provision. In recent years, the quality of the seed potatoes has regularly caused problems with regards to emergence. In the event of a poor emergence, the financial impact can be significant for the producer of ware potatoes, taking into account the contractual sales obligations that he must fulfill. In this context, the development of more Belgian production of certified seed potatoes in the most commonly used varieties is desirable.
- The IO will monitor the contractual relationships to ensure that balanced commercial relationships between the producer and the first buyer remain within the supply contracts for industrial potatoes.
- Market information will be collected and analyzed and shared with the entire chain.
- Changing legislation sometimes causes problems for the sector. A current example is the disappearance of germ inhibitor CIPC. The practical, technical, sanitary and financial consequences will after all have an impact on the entire potato chain. Belpotato.be is facing a difficult task to ensure that the transition to storage without CIPC goes as smoothly as possible without significant loss of storage capacity, without quality loss of the potatoes supplied and without reducing the margins within the sector or the competitiveness of Belgian finished products for export.
- The interbranch organization also wants to play a role in determining the reception conditions and the transparency of the assessment of the quality of industrial potatoes by establishing clear and unambiguous protocols.
- Belpotato.be will also represent the sector in public and private structures whose actions and decisions directly concern potato issues (technology, economy, environment, public health, trade, social, ...).
Belgapom: position on the method for storing the 2020 potato harvest
As previously announced by Belgapom, the recognised association for the Belgian potato trade and processing industry, potato storage in the European Union is entering a new era. This is the result of a decision taken by the European Commission to not extend the approval for the active substance chlorpropham. In light of this, Belgapom has formulated a position on how to handle chlorpropham as of the 2020 harvest.
Maximum effort expected and required
As a result of the decision taken by the European Commission, the maximum residue limit (MRL) for the active substance chlorpropham will be 0.01 ppm (detection limit), unless the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SCoPAFF) decides otherwise. Since sprout inhibitors on the basis of the active substance chlorpropham have been widely used in European storage sheds in the past decade, there is a risk of cross-contamination for potatoes that starting from the coming harvest year (2020) will be kept in storage sheds with a chlorpropham past. It is for this reason that the European potato sector has submitted a request to the authorities for a temporarily increased MRL (t-MRL) for the active substance chlorpropham. The dossier for a t-MRL has been submitted by the Dutch CTGB and is currently being assessed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). However, regardless of any t-MRL being awarded, the European Commission expects the European potato sector to make a maximum effort to thoroughly clean storage sheds with a chlorpropham past.
Interpretation of the rules
With an eye to this legal situation, Belgapom would therefore like to state the following:
- as of the harvest of 2020, potatoes may not be treated with products on the basis of the active substance chlorpropham and potatoes must comply with the applicable legislation;
- with regard to potatoes that will be stored in storage sheds for export, these potatoes must come from storage that is suitable for potatoes for human consumption where chlorpropham has never previously been used or which has been cleaned to prevent cross-contamination with the products on the basis of chlorpropham used in the past;
- sellers of potatoes that will be stored in storage sheds where chlorpropham was used in the past, will, as part of good practice, make a maximum effort to sufficiently thoroughly clean the storage sheds including any installations such as ventilators, air ducts, conveyor belts and crates, etc. before storing the 2020 harvest;
- sellers of potatoes that will be stored have an obligation, at the time of delivery at the latest, to provide information to the buyer(s) about the efforts made with regard to thorough cleaning.
Belgapom is very much aware of this major challenge and is of the opinion that the (European) chain partners must join forces to manage the phasing out of chlorpropham. Belgapom is therefore consulting on this subject with the Belgian agricultural organisations and the Walloon chain organisation, whose members are also being confronted with the challenges of storing potatoes without chlorpropham. This collaboration will hopefully be strengthened over the next few months so that growers can be offered practical, broadly supported advice well before the start of the new storage season.
Belgapom organizes a high level potato event at the Belgian mission in China
In the framework of the Belgian economic mission to China, chaired by Princess Astrid of Belgium, Belgapom has organized a High Level Potato event in Beijing to activate a possible collaboration between the Chinese and Belgian potato sector. Of course the Belgian Fries and its Fritery culture were put in the center of the attention. But as important was the input at this event of the Belgian and Chinese research sector.
The President of Boerenbond Sonja De Becker invited the Chinese invitees on behalf of the Belgian potato value chain to visit Interpom 2020, the biggest indoor potato event in the world. Also visits and contact with research institutions as Inagro, PCA, VITO, ILVO, VIB a.o. will be scheduled, as well as visits to machine and equipment providers.
Steven Krekels of VITO remote sensing got a lot of attention during his presentation of the WatchITgrow tool, which combines satellite images to data concerning soil, crop, climate a.o. to offer on line crop advice on parcel level to the farmers.
The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) and the Chinese Academy for agricultural science (CAAS) on their turn invited the Belgian potato sector to participate at the China Potato Expo in June 2020, an invitation which was accepted by Belgapom. Also CIP China, the International Potato Center was concerned to this program.
Romain Cools, Secretary General of Belgapom, announced also that VLAM, APAQ-W and 5 Belgian potato processing companies will set up during the next 3 years several promotion actions for Belgian Fries in China, Japan, South Korean and Singapore in a project which is also supported by the European Union.
At the end of the successful event Jan Jambon, Flemish Minister President illustrated after his closing remarks that he's also a true lover of our Belgian Fries.
See also the report of the VRTNWS.
Potato storage … entering a new era as of the 2020-2021 season!
The European Commission recently decided to revoke approval for chlorpropham (CIPC) a substance long known, on the basis of a report that was published on the website of EFSA (the European Food Safety Agency).
Luckily, in cooperation with Flanders’ Food (the Flemish spearhead cluster for the food industry), a few years ago Belgapom, the Belgian potato trade & processing industry association, together with its members invested in the RESKIA project, which investigated alternatives for CIPC for storing varieties that are cultivated in Belgium both for the fresh and the processing sectors.
The results of this research can be consulted on the website https://www.flandersfood.com/projecten/reskia.
This means that CIPC may be used for the last time for the storage of potatoes during the current season of 2019-2020. As of 1 July 2020, the use of CIPC will no longer be permitted in Belgium (not even as a herbicide for onions)! The end date for the use of CIPC in other member states may vary, but chlorpropham may NO LONGER be used anywhere in the European Union as of 8 October.
NO more CIPCs allowed as of the season of 2020-2021!
As of the following storage season (harvest of 2020), the storage of ware potatoes will enter a new era. In view of the ban on chlorpropham, it will not be possible for either the trade sector or the processing industry to buy potatoes from the 2020 harvest that have been treated with chlorpropham. That is why all growers are being called on urgently to no longer treat the 2020 harvest with chlorpropham.
The transition to the new storage regime is accompanied by a series of challenges for the entire potato sector, varying from effective germination inhibition with the aid of alternative products to a large-scale cleaning operation for storage units that have a chlorpropham past.
In cooperation with the national federations of half a dozen countries, the European Potato Processors' Association, EUPPA, currently has a number of ongoing projects, for example to gain more insight into how storage units can be cleaned effectively. For Belgium, this is being organised by Belgapom in collaboration with its member companies in the processing sector.
The test results will be shared with the European Commission with an eye to obtaining a temporary MRL, a necessary instrument to avoid calamities on the basis of historical contamination. After all, exceeding the likely detection limit will lead to destruction of the entire batch stored. So a temporary maximum residue level (tMRL) is crucial.
Schedule cleaning old storage units in the 2020 shoulder season now
Belgapom is also focussing on further cooperation with all the partners in the potato chain to continue informing the growers of good practices, both with regard to using alternatives and cleaning procedures for storage units.
In many cases, growers will have to invest in new technology to apply the alternative, approved substances. The Flemish government, on a proposal by Belgapom, has made additional funds available to growers for this via the VLIF Flemish agricultural investment fund.
It is clear that all storage units, just as the means of transport, will have to be cleaned very thoroughly to avoid cross-contamination of potatoes in the next few years.
Perhaps the demand for the industrial cleaning of storage units in our country and throughout the EU in the 2020 shoulder season will increase exponentially. It is therefore advisable to make the necessary appointments for this well on time.
Source : Belgapom
Belgian potato-processing sector experienced record growth in 2018 and exceeded 5 million tonnes of processed potatoes.
However, in 2019 the sector is facing major challenges as a result of the poor growing season of 2018 – 2019
Belgapom, the association for the Belgian potato trade and processing industry, can announce that in 2018 the 5 million tonne mark was passed with regard to processed potatoes. This is absolutely a new record and what makes it even more remarkable, is that it is the sharpest annual increase since the nineteen-nineties. As a reminder: in 1990 around 500,000 tonnes of potatoes were processed into fries, mashed potato products, crisps or flakes and granules. 28 years later, the sector can report an increase of 1000 %. In the meantime, Belgium has become the largest exporter of frozen potatoes in the world, exporting to over 150 countries. The term ‘Belgian fries’ is part of our country’s international food image of chocolate, beers and fries. But the entire Belgian potato chain helped develop the growth: in addition to the farmers, for whom potatoes have become the most important source of revenues within arable farming, service providers and suppliers of machinery also experienced remarkable growth. They are increasingly also becoming global players with innovative products and technology.
The use of potatoes as a raw material rose by 11.6% in 2018. This is by far the sharpest increase in the history of this still relatively new sector of the Belgian food industry.
Increase in employment and investments form the basis for further sustainable growth
The sector continues to invest in the future, both with regard to quality and quantity. Sustainability is the leitmotiv through it all. Efforts are being made in the area of the sustainable cultivation of potatoes, environmentally friendly production and logistics.
Employment has also seen remarkable growth with an increase of 8 % compared to 2017. At present, 4762 blue and white-collar workers are employed in this strongly automated sector.
And for the future, too, the ‘sustainable growth’ of the Belgian potato-processing sector is guaranteed, since in 2018 there were once again record investments in the sector for the sum of almost 311 million euros.
The reasons for this remarkable evolution are firstly the continued increasing demand for potato products on the world market. The ever-growing middle classes in Asia and South America is stimulating the demand for convenience food, including Belgian fries. The Belgian potato-processing industry is located in the heart of the European production area and it can make use of an ever more number of potato professionals and a unique logistical network with international ports nearby.
On the other hand, the Belgian potato sector has made use of the large supply of potatoes in the second half of the 2017-2018 season following a record potato harvest. Despite the setback of the 2018-2019 growing season with the exceptional drought and repeated heatwaves, there was a large supply of potatoes in the second half of 2018. Quite a number of batches could not be kept and – in consultation with the growers – it was decided to process them in the autumn of 2018.
In addition, the Belgian processing companies are also increasingly investing in promotion and developing their commercial network. One example of this is the campaign in southeast Asia in cooperation with VLAM and APAQ-W and the European Commission, that has led to better familiarity with the story of ‘Belgian fries, from the heart of Europe’ in that part of the world too.
Not all good news
However, the prolonged drought and high temperatures during the 2018 -2019 growing season caused extensive damage to the Belgian potato chain.Not only will the low yield of the 2018 harvest probably have a major impact on the business results of all the operators of the Belgian potato chain, the confidence in this strong, largely family-run sector of SMEs developed over many years also threatened to be shaken up.
The agricultural organisations and Belgapom have as much as possible stimulated dialogue between the companies executing the contracts. They are also continuing to focus on achieving a trade organisation for the potato sector that should provide a fixed base to this dialogue.
Trade and industry have furthermore adapted their quality requirements as part of the solution to the problems, although admittedly this has led to shorter fries.
The high potato prices on the free market helped lead to a rising price for the finished products, which did not have a favourable impact on the Belgian competitive position vis-à-vis other production countries.
In addition, the Belgian and European industry is moving heaven and earth to also convince the European Commission to make a forceful end to the unfair antidumping measures of a number of countries. Not only do they damage the companies involved, in addition an unjustified negative image is being created of this dynamic sector, that has developed into a global player without systematic support from the government.
The difficult circumstances of the 2018-2019 season also have an impact on the amount and quality of the seed potatoes supplied, which might also affect the next season.
Finally, the sector is also regarding the imminent decision of the European Commission to no longer permit the sprout inhibitor CIPC with great uncertainty. This substance has been in use since time immemorial. Recent studies will perhaps result in its authorisation being revoked. Luckily the sector itself in collaboration with Flanders Food has already take the initiative to examine alternative substances with the Reskia research project (low-residue sprout inhibition). However, it is still necessary to learn how to handle this in practice and the sector will be confronted with significant investments in potato storage.
Belgapom calls on the Flemish and Walloon authorities to assist and support their producers in this.
The sector expects full cooperation from Europe to also find a solution for risks as a result of the historical contamination of the warehouses.
Working towards online growing advice via WatchITgrow
Within the framework of sustainable development of the sector, Belgapom and its companies want to offer their full support to VITO’s WatchITgrow platform. This instrument, that makes use of satellite data and numerous other information sources, is the successor to the Belspo Ipot project that Belgapom helped to set up.
Belgapom has called on its members to pay producers who, within the framework of their contract enter their parcels via WatchITgrow before 2019 and add the necessary cultivation data, a premium for this.
The data is used by VITO to develop growing advice controlled by AI (artificial intelligence). For the next 2 years, growers can make use of the online growing advice that will be further developed year after year. After that, a fee will be charged for the system, but it will also continue to further develop its advice and warnings.
Access to the harvest prognosis model is limited to just the grower – who is free to share it with his buyers if he wants to. It is important to point out that VITO is the only party who has access to this data.
Belgapom, Boerenbond and VITO together towards digital agriculture.
Boerenbond, Belgapom and VITO are teaming up to strengthen the future of the Belgian potato chain by further developing the online platform WatchITgrow.
WatchITgrow is a Belgian platform launched to support growers to monitor arable crops and vegetables, in view of increasing yields, both qualitatively and quantitatively. WatchITgrow uses various types of data starting with satellite data combined with e.g. weather data, soil data, IoT data and field data provided by the grower.
WatchITgrow aims to support individual growers to improve their yields and achieve a more sustainable production. WatchITgrow allows growers to gather massive amounts of data via a personal account. These data will be combined using new technologies such as big data analytics and machine learning to provide growers with more timely and personalized advice.
In the upcoming months Boerenbond and Belgapom will first focus on getting growers acquainted with the platform and assist them in gathering all crop-related data in the independent platform, hosted by VITO, guaranteeing data-privacy, data-security and data access.
Growers that collect their crop-related data via their personal account and submit these data via WatchITgrow can receive a financial bonus of 250 – 750 euro from their buyer. With this financial support the buyers want to support the individual growers and encourage them to use new digital technologies in order to strengthen our agricultural sector.
Next to the financial support to further develop WatchITgrow, Boerenbond and Belgapom will also actively promote the use of the platform towards the entire agricultural sector.
Belgapom introduces its ambassador for Belgian fries, James Bint, in Mexico during the economic mission
During the Belgian economic mission led by Her Royal Highness Princess Astrid, the Belgian potato sector featured prominently in the large delegation representing the Belgian food sector under the banner ‘Food.be, small country, great food’.
Sharply increasing export of Belgian frozen fries to Mexico
Belgium is the largest exporter of frozen potatoes in the world and export to Mexico is rising visibly. And on this market, that is traditionally oriented towards North America, Belgium is already the third largest importer of frozen fries. Last year, Belgian export rose by 282 % to around 10,000 tonnes.
The Belgian companies want to invest further in this growth market, especially now the NAFTA between the USA, Canada and Mexico will be replaced by the USMCA at the beginning of 2020 and the impact of this on trade relations between the USA and Mexico is still unclear.
Belgapom is also examining the phytosanitary possibilities of facilitating the export of fresh potatoes to Mexico. After all, that country only produces 65 % of the potatoes it needs.
Successful Belgapom press event
During a well-attended press event organised in cooperation with FIT which was introduced by the Belgian Ambassador in Mexico, Mr Antoine Evrard, Mr Philippe Muyters, the Minister for Economic Affairs for the Flemish Region, positioned the Flemish and Belgian potato chain in the framework of rich tradition and cooperation and constant innovation efforts.
He illustrated this using the cooperation of Belgapom and the companies of the Flemish spearhead cluster Flanders Food, where numerous innovative projects have started up. Various company projects are also running via Wagralim in Wallonia. The sector also believes in artificial intelligence as VITO’s WatchITgrow project shows. In addition to monitoring the potato plots using satellite photography, in the next few years the idea is to develop online cultivation advice based on a broad database that can integrate all the newly developed disease control models. This should offer further opportunities for sustainable potato cultivation in the Belgian potato region, with its central location in the European potato-growing region.
The new pilot factory in Kortrijk within the context of the Veg-I-Tec Interreg-project should stimulate innovation with regard to processes and products in the Belgian potato and vegetable processing sectors.
James Bint, the ambassador of the Belgian “frietkot” culture now also in Mexico
Finally, Belgapom Secretary-General Romain Cools provided an overview of the Belgian potato chain, with emphasis on the typically Belgian “frietkot” culture. This authenticity – recognised as national, cultural heritage – together with the dynamic nature of the entire potato chain forms the basis of this unique sector. The Belgian potato-processing sector now also wants to enable the Mexican consumer to enrich the rich variety of street food with real ‘papas fritas belgas’.
Some 20 food journalists and bloggers put it to the test and together with the invited guests enjoyed delicious fries served in a traditional Belgian cone with a Mexican chipotle sauce. A refreshing Belgian beer and a few delicious Belgian chocolates rounded off the tasting. And the Belgian ambassador of the “frietkot” culture, James Bint, saw that it was good.
Belgian fries were also present at the ‘Sabores de Bélgica’ event, organised by AWEX, of the Belgian food sector, at which the companies Agristo and Mydibel were present. And naturally the well-attended closing reception in the historic setting of the Colegio de San Ildefonso in the Centro Histórico of Mexico City could not be rounded off without a bag of Belgian fries and a selfie with James Bint.
Imagine a world without potatoes
The international potato center CIP has launched at the World Potato Congress 2018 in Cuzco Peru the idea to set up a global promotion campaign for the potato under the slogan : 'Imagine a world without potatoes'.
Everybody who's involved one way or another with potatoes can take part in this campaign : all over the world in 2019 and 2020 the question will be raised whether one can himself 'a world without potatoes'.
SME-members of Belgapom or Europatat can register for this campaign through their organization. Larger companies have pass CIP.
No more doubt and join ! We imagine you can't imagine a world without potatoes, can you ?
More information in this brochure.
World Potato Congress gives farmers in the Andes an extra boost via Trias project
This spring, Trias was one of the highlights at the World Potato Congress in Peru. The contacts made during this event with various partners have been fruitful.
Every three years, the World Potato Congress brings together thousands of researchers and professionals from the global potato sector. For this spring's edition, Congress President Romain Cools booked in a presentation of the projects Trias has carried out together with a number of local farmers' organisations in the Andes, the birthplace of the potato.
Generator for freezer room
'During the event, we met some interesting people', explains Lieve Van Elsen, regional director of Trias Andes. 'Take for example seed and fertilizer sellers. In the past, these companies were not int
erested in small farmers from Conpapa or Coopagros. But during the World Potato Congress, they discovered the potential of these farmers' organisations and their members. That is interesting for the farmers as the companies also offer technical assistance.'
Significantly, the national governments in the Andes countries have been enthused. In Peru, the government was so impressed by the new freezer
room of Coopagros' potato growers that they immediately made a generator available to provide the installation with electricity, making the freezer room operational. However, the quality of the freeze-dried potatoes still needs to be optimized, which is why Trias has started a partnership with the ILVO, Unversity College Ghent, the University of Andahuaylas and the International Potato Center in Peru.
In Ecuador, agriculture minister Rúben Flores unveiled ambitious plans after the World Potato Congress. 'We got the chance to speak to the minister', says Van Elsen, who is excited about the 500,000 dollars that Flores has just freed up for the country's potato sector.
'The potato sector in Ecuador will get an extra impulse with investments in informing companies, monitoring the quality of seeds and building new storage warehouses. The model for this is Conpapa's warehouse, which was built several years ago with the support of Trias Andes and our Flemish partners. Furthermore, the Ecuadorian government will subsidise a crisp factory run by Agropapa, another farmers' organisation which Trias works with', explains the regional director.
Trias Andes' Flemish partners are also keen to keep up the good work. Siebe Moeyaert is currently in Ecuador, designing a weighing and packing add-on for Conpapa's potato growers as part of his master's in electromechanics. The add-on will be coupled to the washing and sorting machine that was constructed two years ago with the support of Boerenbond, Belgapom and VTI in Torhout.
This new add-on will serve as the basis for detailed designs that students at the VTI will do this autumn as part of their final year.
In the last decade, Trias has built on the Flemish coalition supporting potatoes in the Andes. In 2008, Belgapom was brought on board as part of the International Year of the Potato. Since then, partnerships have been forged at different points in time with Rotary, the VTI, the VLTI, the ILVO and the Province of West Flanders.
Although Peru and Ecuador are currently middle-income countries, it is still difficult for the millions of farming families in the Andes to enjoy a standard of living that we consider 'normal'. Most of their villages are isolated, and a long way from high-quality, basic healthcare and education services. Mining is the most important sector in production value terms, but it is agriculture that provides jobs. The low incomes and limited infrastructure mean that many people leave rural areas.
Marc Van Herreweghe new chairman of Belgapom
The annual general meeting of Belgapom, the Belgian potato trade and processing industry association, has appointed Marc Van Herreweghe as its chairman. He succeeds Marc Seru who in accordance with the articles of association was not available for re-election after two terms of 3 years.
Marc Van Herreweghe is the CEO of the family-owned potato processing company Mydibel in Mouscron.
He started his international career at British American Tobacco, one of the world’s leading multinationals with 44 factories in 42 countries. His career at BAT is impressive, working up to Group Head of Manufacturing, responsible for all of the group’s factories. He is an expert in People Leadership, Business Integration & Transformation, Operational Excellence, Industry 4.0 and Mergers & Acquisitions.
Afterwards he worked as a consultant for various international companies amongst other things as Associated Vice-President of IDC (International Data Corporation), global leader in Market Intelligence, Advisory Services and Research. In addition, he has seats on various executive boards.
Since the beginning of this year, Marc Van Herreweghe is also chairman of the executive committee for the Processing section within Belgapom.
During his word of thanks, he pointed to the necessity of the fast-growing potato sector in our country to make use of the technological means available to better coordinate the entire potato chain. This can benefit all the links in the chain according to the new chairman.
However, in addition, the potato sector must more than ever before defend its interests: our country has the ideal soil and climate for growing potatoes. Thanks to the development of the potato-processing sector into a leading industrial player in the global agro-food sector, we are faced with numerous new challenges. For example, from the consequences of climate change, the increasing pressure from disease and pests and the availability of workers via the demand for ever more sustainable production and the pressure on the use of crop protection agents to the increasing market protection that poses major challenges to global trade.
It is Belgapom’s task to handle this, together with the chain, through efficient cooperation with our national and European organisations. To this end he also pointed out the role of the inter-branche organisation to be founded in our country.
New Belgapom board.
In addition to the election of a new chairman, the board was also renewed.
The following have seats representing the Trade section: Marc Bauden, Ben Muyshondt, Bart Nemegheer, Marc Seru, Rik Tanghe and Heike Valcke.
The following have seats representing the Processing section: Jan Clarebout, Yves De Vinck, Dirk Desloovere, Wim Lannoey, Carlo Mylle and Hannelore Raes.
This board has a mandate until 2021.
FVPhouse event on remote sensing and blockchain technology
Immediately after Belgapom’s AGM, there was an event organised together with Belgapom’s partners in the FVPhouse umbrella Fresh Trade Belgium and Vegeben, in collaboration with VITO.
After that, Walter Stiers illustrated the opportunities of blockchain technology for the functioning of the value chain by means of a number of examples. Both remote sensing and blockchain can be important tools for efficient insurance.
Record investments in the Belgian potato-processing sector are continued in 2017: production figures higher once again
The record year of 2016 for the Belgian potato-processing industry continued into 2017, according to Belgapom, the Belgian potato trade and processing industry association.
During the past few years, the Belgian potato industry developed into one of the fastest growing sectors in the Belgian food industry. Partly thanks to the significant investment in capacity and quality, this trend continued in 2017. Thus last year 4.57 million tonnes of potatoes (+ 3.6 %) were processed into fries, crisps, croquettes, flakes, granules and other potato products.
What is noticeable in 2017 is the exceptional increase in products other than fries (crisps, croquettes, mash products, flakes, etc.), which evolved from 468,513 to 690,159 tonnes (+ 47.5%).
The share of frozen and fresh fries rose from 1.91 million tonnes to 1.99 million tonnes (+ 4.3 %), however the share of fresh refrigerated fries fell by 3.5 %.
For the season 2017-2018 statistics show with 5,11 million tons of potatoes an absolute record harvest for Belgium. This increase in resulting from the increase in planted area, the choices of varieties and the influence of weather conditions. The figures published by Belgapom relate to the calendar year of 2017, which spans two potato seasons (2016-2017 and 2017-2018).
But what is certainly fanning the optimism in the sector is the fact that in 2017 the record sum of over 305 million euros invested in the potato-processing sector was almost equalled (-1.3 %). Employment in the sector once gain also grew by 7.1 % (4,410 units).
According to the latest statistics, Belgium remains by far the largest exporter of frozen potatoes in the world in 2017 with 2.2 million tonnes. The share of third countries continues to increase.
On the eve of the national holiday in 2017, all the competent authorities recognised the ‘frietkot culture’ as national intangible cultural heritage. On that occasion, Prince Laurent of Belgium granted the mandate of “ambassador of the Belgian frietkot culture abroad” to James Bint, the famous cartoon character who analogously with his homonym ‘James Bond’ has a ‘license to fry’.
Last year, the figure of James Bint was used to start the promotion campaign for ‘Belgian fries, from the heart of Europe’ in southeast Asia. By participating in trade fairs and press events, the Belgian fry producers try to demonstrate the authenticity and quality of the Belgian fries in this fast-growing market of 557 million consumers. As of today, after all the supply of potato products in Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand above all comes from North Africa.
The campaign – with the support of the European Commission – is being carried out by VLAM in cooperation with APAQ-W, FIT and AWEX and will continue in 2018 and 2019. There are events planned in the near future in Singapore, Manilla, Bangkok, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city.
In the week of 9-15 May, the Central World Bangkok – one of the largest shopping centres in the world – will be dominated by “real Belgian fries”. For one week, Belgian fries will be offered for tasting and during the weekend of 11-13 May, the famous Belgian frietkot manager, Eddy Cooremans, will be present to fry and recommend Belgian fries. What is more, a real-life James Bint will provide additional entertainment with his text balloons. This event is also being linked to social media and B2B events such as the Thaifex trade fair.
… and increasing protectionism
But on the other side of the world, a threat is emerging. Belgian (and European) fries risk becoming the victim of protectionist reflexes that threaten international trade.
After unjustified antidumping measures by the Brazilian government (the legal complaint against this by the European companies is still pending), a decision by the Colombian government is soon also expected about a similar case. The dossier resembles a Swiss cheese with just as many holes (which was also confirmed by the European Commission), but a negative decision here can still lead to unjustified import levies. Unfortunately, these dossiers have also got other South American countries thinking about making use of this procedure, even if there is no reason to do so at all.
Belgapom and the European federation EUPPA have urged the European Commission to increase the pressure to end such practices, where apparently there is no hesitation in falsifying a dossier even during the process.
Not only has the Belgian sector chosen to press ahead to guarantee the sustainability of its national potato production by setting up further forms of cooperation via the Potato Branch Organisation, which is to be baptised during Interpom Primeurs (25-27 November 2018). But Belgapom also supports international cooperation projects within the potato sector in developing countries. For example the project Coalición Chuño by TRIAS in collaboration with a number of other partners such as ILVO, VTI, VLTI and Rotary Torhout, which supports the construction of the first artisanal chuño factory in the world in Peru (a century-old technology for freeze-drying potatoes). This project will be presented to the whole world as an example of development aid through potatoes during the World Potato Congress in Cuzco (27-31 May 2018).