Science - April 15, 2011

Support for organic soil remediation

The small Wageningen biotech company Thatchtec has been given one hundred and fifty thousand euros in subsidy from the province of Gelderland to develop organic soil remediation further. It will be collaborating with plant researchers at Wageningen UR.

Thatchtec aims to replace the current soil remediation process for chrysanthemum cultivation, in which steam is used to kill pathogens in the soil, by an environmentally friendly process. The company inserts pellets of by-products from the agro-industry into the soil, which is then covered with plastic. Then bacteria then break down not just the biomass that has been inserted but also the pathogens in the soil. Thatchtec has a patent for this method.
The company, with three members of staff, was set up nine years ago by Herman Feil, a former business-unit director at ATO-DLO. Over the past few years, he has carried out studies with Wageningen plant researchers on which vegetable material is best able to break down soil pathogens under anaerobic conditions. Now it is time to apply the results in greenhouse horticulture. Working once again with Wageningen UR, Thatchtec aims to use the money from the province to improve the method to such an extent that it can remediate the soil for a whole year. At present, the chrysanthemum growers apply steam twice a year to kill all soil life. The company also wants to make the method suitable for use in organic greenhouse horticulture.
Organic soil remediation is currently only suitable for greenhouses, says Feil - the technique is still too expensive for open fields, as it costs around two euros per square metre. Thatchtec is collaborating with Wageningen UR in another project to see if the costs can be brought down. That might make the technique attractive for potato cultivation and vegetable cultivation in open fields.
Thatchtec is one of the many ventures of TDI BV (Tournois Dynamic Innovations) in Wageningen, which sets up companies to develop new techniques. Feil, one of the owners of  Thatchtec, is also Business Development Director at TDI.

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