Ronald Bosch is an internationally experienced agronomist. He joined Marginpar because this floral brand wants to achieve its aim for 100% sustainable production. Ronald shares his journey of passion and innovation at Marginpar Kenya and Ethiopia. His goal? To cultivate flowers sustainably and strive for continuous improvement every day.
Now, this one's for those who truly want to delve deep. Deep into the soil, as the soil is Ronald's expertise. So put on your thinking caps and discover what a week as an agronomist at Marginpar looks like. For a little help with technicalities, check the glossary at the end of this article.
Monday: Nurturing Nature's Resilience
Ronald began the week assessing trials on two of Marginpar's farms. His focus is on replacing chemical control with organic methods against soil-borne diseases.
At the Marginpar MR Farm - a nursery that spans 37 hectares in Muchorwe, Molo in Kenya -, he examined the impact of organic soil resetting and the addition of specific microorganisms. These trials contribute to its evolving Crop Establishment Manual, a living document of tried-and-tested methods. This manual is part of the agronomy five-year plan to make the production process more sustainable.
At another farm, the ST Farm - a 22 hectares nursery that is located close to Sobea, Nakuru in Kenya - Ronald checked up on the newly planted limonium trials, to find that after using the Crop Establishment Manual for planting, a second flush is now possible for some varieties. The yield has improved, and the grade split has become more favorable.
He also passed the compost area. Last month, all the farm teams visited this ST Farm to observe the process of vermiculture and biochar production and to get a refresher on compost production. A great example of its strategy of horizontal learning: Marginpar tests on one farm and then rolls it out on the other farms. The new organic inputs are important to maintain the level of soil life after the cutback of a crop. After building up the level of microorganisms in the soil, less fertilizer is required.
Tuesday: Unveiling Nature's Secrets
In the quest for continuous improvement, Ronald immerses himself in a diverse range of projects. And he definitely doesn't do it alone.
"At the Armada meeting - which is a yearly meeting with all farm managers to discuss the challenges they foresee in meeting the Market Demand - we made a list of actions that might lead to production or quality improvement. Currently, we are working on 124 different actions, which we call 'Tags'.
An interesting Tag is to determine the nematode population in the different farms. It is important to know that there are different types of nematodes. Saprophytic nematodes are the good type. They decompose organic material and recycle nutrients back into the soil; their presence indicates healthy soil.
Plant-pathogenic nematodes on the other hand are the bad type. They can cause different types of damage to the crops, for instance by providing entry points for fungi and bacteria, and reducing the uptake of water and nutrients."
Ronald found that the soil's biological activity (by the good nematodes) is low, and that plant-pathogenic nematode counts are high. A new program has started to monitor and manage nematodes in different crops.
Wednesday: Pioneering Growth and Discovery
A full day for Ronald and the team at Kudenga Farm. This production site covers 42 hectares of cultivated area and is located in the Molo region in Kenya. At an altitude of 2,700 meters, Kudenga Farm is currently one of the highest flower companies in Kenya. Here, new eryngium and gypsophila blocks have been planted according to the Crop Establishment Manual. Time to observe the progress!
"The eryngium plants have established nicely, without any losses. Even though this also depends on the clone, it is a very promising observation.
We also found that the production of gypsophila has increased. We changed the light regime, and sanitation protocol, and reduced fertilizer and growth hormone application.
Improvement was also seen in the gypsophila opening room."
The afternoon was filled with check-ups on multiple projects, like thrips and whitefly control, the establishment of the astilbe mother stock, a quality concern with ornithogalum, and a new way of packing that was suggested by the team a few months ago. Together, the Marginpar team embarks on a journey of growth, leaving no stone unturned in our pursuit of excellence.
Thursday: Empowering Sustainable Practices
Ronald is all about sharing his knowledge. He spent his Thursday working on two more manuals: the Crop Protection Manual and the Soil Improvement Manual. The first describes the new quantitative scouting method that has been introduced.
"Currently, different management systems have been added for specific pests and diseases. We are aiming for biological or organic control methods first before we start looking for chemical solutions."
The Soil Improvement Manual is used to describe the different activities that have to be carried out between uprooting an old crop and planting a new crop.
"This morning I worked on three different checklists that describe the sequence of the activities that need to be carried out. Each step is checked, and major steps are signed off by the farm management. The good thing about a checklist is that corrections can be made immediately before the next step has started."
Friday: Harnessing Data, Empowering Growth
With all that scouting data being collected by Ronald and the teams, it is key to store all of it in a proper database. This database is currently running for the Marginpar MR Farm.
"We are now starting to roll it out into the other farms. Farm maps have been collected and are now being incorporated into the database.
Secondly, we are working on a list that includes all the active ingredients, biologicals, and bio-stimulants we use; all will be incorporated into the scouting database."
The afternoon was all about sugar. The relationship between sugar levels and stress levels in plants that is.
"Stress can be from biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) origin. To assess sugar levels, we collected sap from various plant parts and at different growth stages, including leaves, stems, internodes, and roots. Ultimately, we determined that sap extracted from the internodes provided the most consistent and reliable measure of sugar levels. Now, I have to do more tests and develop a manual. This can assist the farm teams in the early detection of stress in plants and they will therefore be able to correct the issue early on."
Committed to Innovation
The week draws to a close as Ronald embarks on a Saturday morning literature study. He researches the impact of cover crops on soil bio life, soil organic matter, and earthworms. Secondly, what is the best method to terminate a cover crop? And what will be the impact on the planning for the crop over a longer period of time?
At Marginpar they consider themselves very lucky to have such a knowledgeable and dedicated agronomist on their team. Ronald explores the frontiers of innovation, unlocking nature's mysteries, and sculpting a more sustainable future for this grower. This is how Marginpar embraces the beauty of its flower-growing craft, intertwining nature's splendor with an unwavering commitment to excellence and sustainability.
- Agronomist: An expert in agriculture who focuses on studying and improving crop production. Their goal is to optimize crop health and productivity while considering environmental sustainability and economic viability.
- Biochar: A type of charcoal that is produced by heating organic biomass. This carbon-rich material enhances soil fertility, moisture retention, and nutrient availability.
- Biologicals: Products or substances used for pest management, that are derived from living organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, or natural compounds.
- Bio-stimulants: Substances or microorganisms that are applied to plants or the soil to enhance plant growth or performance. They improve nutrient uptake, enhance stress tolerance, and promote overall plant health.
- Clone: A genetic copy of a parent plant. The resulting clone will exhibit the same genetic makeup as the parent plant, including traits such as flower color, growth habit, and disease resistance.
- Compost: A dark substance that is created through the decomposition of organic materials. Microorganisms, such as bacteria and fungi, break down the organic matter into a nutrient-rich soil enhancer.
- Cover Crop: A type of plant that is deliberately grown to provide benefits to the soil and the overall ecosystem, rather than for harvest or sale.
- Flush: A period of abundant flower production, during which harvest takes place.
- Grade split: The categorization of flowers that is based on their length and weight.
- Mother stock: A group of plants that are maintained for the purpose of propagating new plants. This ensures that Marginpar can deliver consistent and uniform flowers.
- Nematode: Roundworm (typically microscopic) that can live in soil, freshwater, or marine environments. Different types either benefit plant health or harm it.
- Organic Soil Resetting: A process in which the soil's natural balance and fertility are restored using organic methods and techniques.
- Thrips: Small insects that feed by piercing plant tissue and sucking out sap, leading to distorted growth, reduced crop yields, and sometimes transmission of viruses.
- Vermiculture: The practice of using earthworms to decompose organic waste materials into nutrient-rich compost.
- Whitefly: Small sap-feeding insects that typically stick to the undersides of leaves. Their feeding can weaken plants, cause yellowing and wilting, and transmit plant diseases.
PS. Did you know Ronald wrote a series of blogs about Marginpar's Journey to Sustainability?