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April 2014

Interview with Dr. Peter Ohs

CUT ENVIRONMENTAL CONTAMINATION

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Despite substantial progress made over the past hundred years there is still much to do to make agriculture more sustainable for generations to come. Bayer SeedGrowth Magazine talked to Dr. Peter Ohs, Senior Global Stewardship Manager, about regional stewardship projects, how to cut dust emissions, and why high quality seed is essential for sustainable agriculture.
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"Stewardship is an integral part of what we do", says Dr. Peter Ohs, Senior Global Stewardship Manager, Bayer SeedGrowth (on the right side of the picture).

Bayer’s global experience enables a nuanced regional approach towards its stewardship initiatives. Could you please name an outstanding project?

Dr. Peter Ohs: “In North America, for example, one major project is helping to reduce dust emissions during seed treatment at large industrial farms. Major operators in the U.S. and Canada use big machinery, often with a central tank for seeds. It’s crucial to keep things flowing to reduce emissions and environmental contamination.”

How does that work?

Dr. Peter Ohs: “Bayer has developed a new fluency agent based on polyethylene wax to replace the commonly used talc. It keeps the seeds flowing through the planter, but reduces dust emissions.”

Why does dust play such a vital role in the stewardship initiative?

Dr. Peter Ohs: “During sowing of treated seeds, dust emission can be an environment problem. Under special circumstances, treated dust can affect beneficial insects like bees and other animals present in the off-crop area.”

Where does the dust that occurs during sowing originate?

Dr. Peter Ohs: “Dust always accompanies treated seeds. It can be aggravated by insufficiently cleaned seeds and/or insufficient adherence of seed treatment products to the seeds. Normally it is a combination of both. Additionally, during the sowing process with pneumatic vacuum sowing machines, dust can be abraded from the treated seeds and distributed widely in the environment.”

So modification kits for sowing machines can reduce environmental exposure successfully?

Dr. Peter Ohs: “Yes, exactly. We are talking about sowing machines used, for example, to drill corn. Although they are an excellent tool for the farmer to achieve high precision and speed of sowing, they are critical for their potential dust release into the environment. In case of this equipment, deflectors can significantly reduce this property by redirecting the dust to the soil and releasing it into or close to the soil at a reduced speed. As a result, environmental contamination is reduced by 90 percent, as confirmed by the German authorities. On top of that, potential contamination of the farmer himself is also reduced.”

Some people may think modifying a sowing machine with a deflector is a very complex and expensive procedure. What would you say?

Dr. Peter Ohs: “Specific deflectors are available from equipment manufacturers. Furthermore, standard retrofit deflector kits are available from different suppliers. Compared with the price of a sowing machine, a deflector kit is not expensive. In addition, the standard retrofit deflector kit is designed so that it can be easily installed by the farmer himself, making deflectors affordable for smallholders too.”

We talked about big farms at the beginning of this interview, but what about the small ones? Are there any differences in stewardship measures and priorities?

Dr. Peter Ohs: “The priority at smaller farms in the developing world is to limit the risk to people. For example in addition to provide high quality products to the market, one program in China is making more professional machinery for the treatment of seeds available to retailers so that thousands of small farmers can have the insecticide Gaucho applied in a professional way to their seed. There has to be a deep understanding of local farmers’ practices to tailormade our stewardship initiatives according to local needs,
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