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Agribusiness and green biotech in Flanders: a story of flourishing growth

Home to agribusinesses in all domains of agriculture, Flanders also happens to be a major R&D hub in Europe in the field of green biotechnology. What’s more, Belgium’s northern region is not just responsible for the majority of the Belgian agricultural output and exports, it’s also considered a leader in intensive farming. Will your agribusiness join this thriving ecosystem and make it big in Flanders and beyond?

Quick facts about agribusiness in Flanders

Research at Bayer, Biotech Valley Ghent

According to Flanders’ Department of Agriculture & Fisheries, agriculture in the region comprises three major activities: arable farming, horticulture and livestock farming. However, various players also specialize in biofarming, green biotech and more.

Here are some general trends relating to Flanders’ agricultural landscape:

  • With a surface area of just 13,625 km2, Flanders is home to 23,361 agricultural businesses, 514 of which focus on biopharming (source: Department of Agriculture & Fisheries, 2020 sector barometer).
  • Flanders generates an annual amount of EUR 38.4 billion in agricultural exports, mainly fresh meat, dairy and cocoa products, but also fertilizers, agricultural equipment and pesticides (source: Department of Agriculture & Fisheries, 2018 agri-commerce report).
  • The agricultural sector employs 48,453 people in Flanders, equal to 39,315 full-time equivalents (source: Department of Agriculture & Fisheries, 2020 sector barometer).
  • Between 2015 and 2017, half of Flanders’ agribusinesses launched innovations. These include process (56%), marketing (20%), organizational (16%) and product (9%) innovations (source: Department of Agriculture & Fisheries, 2018 agriculture report).

Green biotech machine to drive your agribusiness

In addition to the variety of agricultural firms, the presence of supportive scientific R&D is key to the thriving agribusiness industry in Flanders. In this respect, agribusiness in the region is intrinsically connected to other domains such as biotechnology, the biobased economy, life sciences, food science and engineering, harvesting technologies and more.

Green biotech in particular is one of Flanders’ long-standing strong suits, focusing strongly on consumer and industrial trends such as sustainability and eco-friendliness. Various organizations and research centers can help your business capitalize on these trends. Below are two prominent examples:

  • VIB is one of Flanders’ strategic research centers and renowned worldwide for its groundbreaking life sciences and biotech research.
  • flanders.bio is the umbrella organization of Flanders’ biotech firms, research organizations and capital providers, and aims to stimulate biotechnological knowledge exchange and promote entrepreneurship.

Case in point: Inari (US) sows seeds for agricultural revolution in Flanders

In 2019, American biotech pioneer Inari crossed the Atlantic and opened its first R&D facility outside the US. Where? At BioScape, a life sciences incubator that’s part of Ghent’s biotech valley in Flanders. With this move, Inari underlined its ambition to develop next-generation seeds that make crops higher yielding and more resilient in the face of climate change.

“Flanders is a leading biotech region,” says Ponsi Trivisvavet, CEO of Inari. “By calling on its research community, we reinforce our mission to revolutionize agriculture.” The fact that Inari means serious innovative business is also evident in its local partnerships. The firm works with biotech research center VIB and ILVO, an institute for agricultural research. “These partnerships allow us to tap into Flanders’ talent in genomics and plant biology,” Trivisvavet adds.

Inari in Ghent

Boosting your agribusiness innovation capabilities

Universities and incubators at your service

Various of Flanders’ universities – such as UGent, KU Leuven and UHasselt – have specialized education and research tracks relevant to agribusiness. These include research departments for agricultural economics, bioscience engineering, environmental economics and more. Two prominent examples are UGent and VIB’s International Plant Biotechnology Outreach (IPBO) and KU Leuven’s Food Science & Nutrition Research Center (LFoRCe).

In addition, Flanders’ universities offer access to a number of bio-incubators for agri-food innovation, including:  

  • VIB Bioincubator Gent, which consists of an incubator room, a cold room, and six to seven air-conditioned laboratories.
  • BioAccelerator Gent, which is part of the Ghent biotech valley and home to state-of-the art labs and offices with high-level specifications.
  • Bio-incubator Leuven,  an innovative environment at the Arenberg Science Park where biotech firms can develop their ideas and technologies.
  • Agropolis, a Limburg-based incubator for agri- and horticultural innovation, including a research and production space for the testing of new technologies.

ILVO, your go-to agri-food research partner

Flanders’ Institute for Agricultural, Fishery & Food Research – abbreviated as ILVO in Dutch – conducts multidisciplinary research to assist agribusinesses in building ecologically, economically and socially sustainable activities. Feel free to contact ILVO regarding a range of services. These range from tailored advice to product development, lab analyses, safety and quality checks, certification services and so on.

Inagro: for agri- and horticultural knowhow and advice

Leveraging its professional research infrastructure, Inagro’s scientific and technical teams and partners develop farming and cultivation techniques that are as sustainable and innovative as they are practical to deploy. It does so in collaboration with a broad variety of partners including universities, university colleges, businesses and testing grounds.

Flanders’ FOOD: preparing the food of tomorrow

In today’s world, both agribusinesses and food companies are facing complex challenges, ranging from climate change and globalization to raw materials scarcity and increasing automation. To make sure your company doesn’t have to tackle these challenges alone, Flanders provides support through spearhead cluster Flanders’ FOOD. Its goal? To increase the effectiveness of both the agricultural and the food industry. How? By lowering the threshold for access to scientific and technological knowledge.

Leading innovators in precision and smart farming

Flanders is where highly specialized technologies in niche domains flourish – and the world of agriculture is no exception. Strategic research centers imec, VITO and Flanders Make, for example, are the driving forces behind a great variety of precision farming and farm automation innovations. These include:

  • solutions for soil, weather, vegetation and water monitoring, mapping and management;
  • the use of satellites and drones for variable rate irrigation and fertilization;
  • automated tractors and other off-road vehicles;
  • harvesting robots and cobots;
  • and much, much more.

Financing your agribusiness in Flanders

When deciding to establish activities or headquarters in Flanders, your agribusiness company can reap the rewards of:

  • fiscal options to help you cut labor costs.  
  • venture capitalist and bank funding experts that specialize in life sciences and biopharmaceuticals.

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