€20m state-of the-art sugar beet research centre opened

A new €20 million Sugar Beet R&D research centre, the ‘SESVanderHave Innovation Centre’ (SVIC) was inaugurated by Willy Borsus, Federal Minister of Agriculture, in the presence of 250 customers and

A new €20 million Sugar Beet R&D research centre, the ‘SESVanderHave Innovation Centre’ (SVIC) was inaugurated by Willy Borsus, Federal Minister of Agriculture, in the presence of 250 customers and leading scientists from around the world on 6th September in Tienen, Belgium. Barely 400 days from the start of construction, is the new Centre one of the most high-tech research facilities built by the sugar industry, with over 13,000 m2 of glasshouses and 2000 m2 of laboratories, says the company.

Central to furthering research and innovation for over 4 million hectares of sugar beet grown around the world, it will accelerate the screening of new genetics, allowing a three-fold increase in testing and almost doubling the delivery of exciting, new varieties to the market.

“By dramatically scaling up the number of plants we can test, the faster our research can progress and the more qualitative the results. This SVIC is critical to the company and the Sugar industry. It enhances our capabilities, meaning we continue to push the boundaries for yield whilst defending the crop from environmental and biological threats.” Explains Rob Van Tetering, CEO of SESVanderHave.

“Our investment of €20 million in this Centre and ongoing R&D expenditure highlights our commitment and confidence in the Sugar Beet crop and to unlock further yield potential for the future. Existing Collaborative Research Projects with Industry and Institute Partners will benefit immediately from our new capability.”

Gerhard Steinrücken, R&D Director, “Our Sugar Beet seed is grown in more than fifty countries worldwide, all with unique environmental needs, making a tailored genetic solution essential in each of our varieties. The SVIC allows us to analyse all the factors that restrict or enhance performance, whether biotic or abiotic. A significant amount of our €20m investment is for the latest tools to use within the SVIC, including the next generation of biotechnology analytics, innovative investigation methods, bioassays and automation of these. This allows ever greater analysis of sugar beet and it’s DNA.

“However the most important tools in plant breeding are our people, their Passion will be aided by providing a new home for various research departments on a single site in the SVIC, furthering cooperation and innovation between them and research partners.

“The SVIC also delivers on SESVanderHave’s commitment to sustainability. The SVIC catches more than 8 million litres of rainwater per year which is recycled to water our plants. The latest LED lamps are not only 400% more economical than existing lamps but allow us to adapt lighting techniques, whilst our black-out screens reduce light pollution ensuring our glasshouses minimise inconvenience to those working and living around us.”


The company’s Diagnostics Centre (SV Diag) services are used to combat pests and diseases which erode yield improvements our breeders deliver each year. It is used in two ways, to assist diagnosis for Growers and to provide an early warning system for our breeders both by monitoring and understanding the likely evolution of such threats.

“We started SV Diag only 3 years ago, and the increasing demand for these services has fortunately coincided with the move to the SVIC,” comments Dr Yann Galein, the Plant Pathologist who manages the Centre.

“There is a mutual benefit for the sugar beet Grower and the Breeder. It helps to diagnose and address problems in the field, and ensures we remain vigilant. Increasing our knowledge of pests and diseases helps anticipate future threats, for this reason we monitor pests and disease in all countries where sugar beet is grown. Often this is done through the technicians in the research institutes, but increasingly we find growers and processors are sending samples to our Diagnostics Centre to evaluate. Many Research Institutes provide excellent plant clinics and updates from these and the IIRB pest and disease group are integrated in our assessments, as well as input from our own Trials Officers across our global trials network.”

“It provides SESVanderHave with an unparalleled resource to monitor the extent, severity and spread of pest and diseases globally. This provides context to local field assessments and more importantly helps anticipate their likely evolution. As plant breeders we need to anticipate what we need to breed for in 5 or 10 years.

“How does it work? Generally, we are contacted by agronomists or growers. They complete a simple questionnaire giving background information firstly on the field and farm practices, and secondly on the plant symptoms. We provide a standard sampling protocol which recommends which parts to sample and how to store them. Monitoring this protocol is very important because the reliability of the result depends on it.

“When we receive samples we classify them according to the symptoms. If we suspect the presence of pathogens then we use a microscope and petri dishes to determine the type of fungus and the link with the symptoms found in a field. A report is produced for each test. We work on rots roots, unexplained leaf discoloration but also with beet cyst nematode and rhizomania, the determination of the virus tetrad and its concentration. In all cases, we try to make the connection between the problem and the field to map the disease. GPS co-ordinates & Google earth have made this a lot easier. However, we’re dealing with biological interactions, so it is not always possible to make the link between the symptoms and pathogens found.

“We remain cautious in our conclusions as it is usually a small sample, and we don’t make a recommendation. It is the role of the grower to define the next actions. Of course our breeders use this information to anticipate demand and have already delivered solutions with many key traits; including rhizomania, beet cyst nematode, cercospora and rhizoctonia.”

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