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Sustainable bananas in greenhouses: first ‘Dutch bananas’ harvested

| January 30, 2019

Researchers from Wageningen University & Research harvested the first ever Dutch bananas in December 2018. Boerenhart, a supplier of fresh and local products offered the bananas as ‘regional produce’ to restaurants and hospitals in the area around Wageningen. The cultivation took place on two types of synthetic soil substrate: coco peat and rock wool. These allow the growth of the banana plant without the settlement of aggressive fungi.

In the experimental greenhouses at Wageningen this unique research project started in January 2018. “To mark the 100th anniversary of WUR, we developed this plan together with local company Boerenhart: the cultivation of a regional banana in the Wageningen greenhouses,” says Professor of Tropical Plant Pathology Gert Kema. “With this experiment we are investigating whether this form of cultivation offers opportunities for further research into the control of Fusarium wilt. The wilt is a soil borne fungal pathogen that threatens banana production throughout the world, so we took the banana out of the soil.”

The experiment appears to have been very successful, says Prof Kema. “The banana plants grow very well on coco peat and stone wool substrate with only the application of a nutrient solution. The advantage of substrate cultivation is that nutrients can be better tailored to the needs of the plant. In addition, you prevent losses, possibly about 30%, from leakage. The Dutch bananas do not need disease control, which makes this form of cultivation more sustainable than traditional production methods.”

There are sixty plants in the greenhouse, but there are hundreds of thousands of hectares of banana production worldwide. “One of the things that we have learned is that the plant density in the greenhouse was too high. We are going to adjust that, so that the plants will have more light and the bunches of bananas will be able to ripen faster in future experiments”, says Prof Kema.

Partners in the Dutch banana project; Wageningen University & Research, Boerenhart, Triple20, Keygene and Chiquita, are interested in continuing this method of cultivation in greenhouses or other suitable buildings in order to serve small regional markets. “This is a way we can start growing other varieties, for a more diverse range of bananas. We are also planning a trial in the Philippines to see how precision cultivation works under ideal climate conditions.”

After the bananas in the Wageningen greenhouses had been harvested they went to a Chiquita ripening centre. “We are on the way to developing sustainable banana cultivation with new breeds of bananas that are resistant to diseases and that are grown in healthy soils in a responsible social climate,” says Kema.

Published in International Pest Control – January/February 2019 issue

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