Sjors Beijer, BU Manager Horti: Increasing need for regular analysis

Sjors Beijer, BU Manager Horti: Increasing need for regular analysis

15 January 2024

The introduction of emission-free cultivation and circular substrates makes growing systems in horticulture less robust. It is therefore becoming increasingly important to keep your finger on the pulse. Frequent analysis makes this possible, says Sjors Beijer, the new Business Unit Manager Horti at Eurofins Agro Testing. Read the introductory interview here. 

"The transition to circular horticulture, regular analyses are essential. This is the firm belief of Sjors Beijer, Business Unit Manager Horti at Eurofins Agro Testing. As the son of a grower and with a degree from Wageningen University, he knows what he's talking about.

Beijer has been with Eurofins for some time, but last summer, he became the new Business Unit Manager for the Horticulture business in Wageningen. Last year, he joined the Manure and Compost division after seven years with one of the largest substrate manufacturers.

Why did you choose to join Eurofins?

"I had known of Eurofins for a long time. In my parents' pot plant nursery, we used to have all our analyses done by Eurofins. And in my previous job, I was involved with Eurofins in different ways, as Eurofins laboratories conducted analyses for our raw materials substrates and various innovative projects. It’s a beautiful company and the analytical insights that Eurofins provides are essential for horticultural companies. In addition, Eurofins employs many people with in-depth knowledge and passion for the sector, which makes it even nicer.

"What I also like is that the company is part of a global network of around 900 laboratories. This allows an one-stop shop experience for all analyses, meaning a grower can turn to Eurofins not only for soil, water and plant analyses, but also for analysis of residues and content. For compost and potting soil, for example, we can also carry out PFAS testing.”

So you know horticulture inside out. What do you see as the biggest challenges for growers in the coming years?

"The sector is certainly facing big challenges. One of them is circularity. When you start growing in renewable substrates, you must learn how to deal with them. Cultivation control must be more and more precise because of the different characteristics, and there is less margin for error. It is very important to keep your finger on the pulse with the help of analysis. It starts with a baseline measurement, and then you need to regularly monitor what is happening in the substrate and in the crop. This is the only way to make timely adjustments. It also gives you the tools to optimize the next crop. In practice, we see that the need for baseline measurements is sometimes underestimated. By carrying out regular analyses, growers can be proactive rather than reactive once deficiency symptoms appear, when it is already too late.

"In addition to switching to new growing media, emission-free cultivation is also a major challenge for the sector. Less use of chemicals also makes crops more vulnerable. Crop resilience is therefore becoming increasingly important. In horticulture, there is a growing awareness that plant nutrition plays an important role in the resistance of plants to fungal or insect damage. Eurofins is therefore working with several parties to update the basis for fertilization advice. In particular, the focus is on nitrogen requirements.

"When you are working with fewer resources, it is important to be able to intervene in time if something is about to go wrong. Our knowledge helps with that. Modern DNA technology, such as DNA Multiscan, can be used to diagnose potential pathogens at an early stage. We also use DNA technology to map and better understand the microbiome. This involves looking at both good and bad microorganisms in culture. These analyses are relatively new compared to water and substrate analyses and require a different approach. Our goal is to make this information as useful as possible for growers.”

How can growers make the most of analysis?

"Growers who have regular analysis done, have a huge amount of data on the composition of nutrient solutions and crop uptake. This data provides interesting insights. Even better is to link this information with other growing data, such as evaporation or temperature. In this way, you can further optimize cultivation. There are several platforms that can do this. Eurofins Agro Testing makes it possible to read the analysis data into all these platforms; it works with any party that offers such a digital solution.

"Another horticulture development where data plays a role is autonomous cultivation. This is an interesting development in systems where external influences can be eliminated as far as possible. I'm very curious to see where this goes. First, I think there is a lot to be gained by making existing cultivation systems more robust and transparent with data from the analysis of substrate, water and crop. There is certainly a lot of room for improvement outside of the Netherlands, where the horticulturist is not around the corner and suppliers are more remote.”

You mention overseas. Internationalization is definitely a trend in the industry. Where is Eurofins Horti heading?

"Worldwide, we are seeing a growing interest in Eurofins Horti’s analyses. In several countries, we are already working with distributors who offer our services. Cooperating with these parties is very smooth. We have a daily transport service from Schiphol Airport to our laboratory in Wageningen. When the samples are brought to the laboratory in the morning, most of the results are reported to the customer that same day. We are very proud of that! If sampling in distant countries is well connected by air, a customer in Mexico or Canada, for example, could have their results within three days.

"In China, we have a local Eurofins laboratory that performs the horticultural analyses itself. The analysis results are then sent digitally to Wageningen, where they are compiled into a report and, if desired, linked to target values and fertilization advice. We want to introduce this decentralized method in more countries in the future, as it’s even faster and avoids the need to transport samples.

"Another development we are working on is setting up a subscription system for analyses. This will make it more efficient for growers and samplers in terms of planning and administration. You could also develop this idea further by working with partners in the chain, for example, with a producer of young plants. During the growing season, you would receive not only growing advice from the supplier, but also a fortnightly analysis of nutrient status, EC, and pH. This gives everyone a better overview of the growing process and allows adjustments to be made if necessary. This leads to more success for the grower and, of course, more success for their suppliers. I am convinced that cooperation is essential in the development of horticulture towards closed-loop production strategies!”

Are there any other developments we should know about?

"For soil and feed value analysis in agriculture and animal husbandry, Eurofins is working with fast and efficient analysis via Near Infra-Red (NIR). This technology also offers prospects for crop analysis, horticultural substrates, and greenhouse soils. In fact, the new soil bioassay is already working with NIR. We expect to be able to use this technology more and more for horticultural analysis in the future.

"Finally, I would like to say: Come and see us at one of the exhibitions in 2024! We will be at IPM in Essen for the first time. And of course, you will also find us at HortiContact and GreenTech.”

Contact Sjors Beijer

Phone: +31 (0)6 2149 8703