How Belgium became a potato powerhouse
And how it plans to stay that way
Potatoes are the fourth most important staple crop in the world, representing some 19 million hectares of production. In Belgium, they’re an economic powerhouse that has seen incredible growth in the past 25 years. In 1995, Belgian factories processed some 500,000 tonnes of potatoes. Last year, that number rose to 5.08 million tonnes. Of that, 2.6 million tonnes were exported to over 160 countries. How did such a small country achieve such incredible growth? What challenges does it face, and are there opportunities for further growth? This 1.5-hour session aims to answer these questions and more.
The session will begin with a 12-minute video that is meant to mimic a farm tour. The video includes:
- An overview of potato production and processing in Belgium provided by Christophe Vermeulen, CEO of Belgapom, the Belgian potato trade and processing industry association. Belgapom defends the interests of the Belgian seed and consumption potato merchants, pre-packers, exporters, the potato peeling industry and the potato processing industry.
- A visit with Jean-Pierre Van Puymbrouck, a farmer based in Tourinnes-Saint-Lambert, Walloon Brabant, who runs a large-scale, modern arable farm together with his wife and parents. In addition to typical Belgian crops such as sugar beet, chicory, wheat and barley, he grows about 300 hectares of potatoes.
- A brief description of WatchITgrow, an online platform to support growers by monitoring arable crops and vegetables to increase yield and improve quality. Information is provided by Jürgen Decloedt, Business and Relationship Development Manager at VITO.
The video will be followed by a panel of experts who will discuss the strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and challenges of the Belgian potato sector. Specific attention will be paid to issues around sustainability, license to operate, and climate change.
The panel will include:
Steven de Cuyper, Director of Agronomy at Agristo, a private label potato processor. Steven is also President of Vegaplan, and Second Vice-President of Belpotato.be, the branch organisation for the Belgian potato sector.
Amandine Eeckhaut operates a mixed farm in Waregem, Belgium. She and her husband take a full-circle approach to farming, incorporating a 550-head herd of Belgian Blue cattle into an arable farm that includes potatoes, onions, wheat, sugar beets and corn. Amandine is the Second Vice-President of Belpotato.be, representing Flemish farmers.
Kürt Demeulemeester is Department Head of Arable Crops at Inagro, a West Flemish institute focused on applied research and consultancy in arable crops.
Romain Cools is President and CEO of the World Potato Congress. He is past president of Belgapom, having served the association for 30 years. Romain served as secretary-general of Europatat, the European potato trade association, for 15 years, and the European Potato Processing Association (EUPPA) for seven years. He is Belgium’s foremost expert on all things potato.