“Working outdoors among the orchards energizes me!”

Eveline Jacques – Technical Advisor Fruit at Bayer

Eveline Jacques joined Bayer at the beginning of 2020 as a Technical Advisor Fruit. She grew up among apples and pears, studied biology, assisted and doctored at university and worked for a time in the family fruit business and as a buyer for a supermarket chain. She now combines all this knowledge in her current job.

A day on the road with Eveline

The working day begins after Eveline’s son has left for school. In the mornings, she goes through her incoming e-mails and makes the necessary phone calls before anything else. The requests she gets are usually questions from growers or Bayer products dealers, and they are often of a technical nature: “There are also practical questions, such as the volume of water required for a treatment, the time of application and which tank mixes are possible with a particular product”, she says.

Answering these questions requires an extensive knowledge of the Bayer product range, but also of the competition’s products, as well as a knowledge of the different crops. Fortunately, Eveline can also count on her colleagues in the field or in the office in Diegem, close to Brussels.

When the administrative part of the day is done, Eveline goes to visit the fruit plantations. Various trials are being conducted in plantations throughout the fruit-growing regions of Belgium, which are monitored by Eveline and her colleagues. “All kinds of tests are set up in consultation with the growers,” she says. “These can be strip trials in collaboration with a trial station such as the PCFruit or Inagro, where there are several, smaller objects (single trees or shrubs) planted next to each other in a row.”

Her work includes looking for black fruit rot or Stemphylium in pears in a particular plantation. The disease can be recognised in an early stage by small, black spots on the fruit: “We have a number of the same trees in the plantation that are checked each time we visit. This way we can see the evolution of the disease throughout the growing season, and also the impact of the different treatments. In addition to the strip tests by the test stations, we also carry out practical tests ourselves. These are done on a larger scale, 1 hectare per object. I’m going to look at practical trials like that on a regular basis as well.”

Eveline walks up and down the rows of fruit trees and regularly stops to take a closer look at a bulb. Her connoisseur eye quickly spots the small spots, and some scratching with a fingernail brings certainty. She notes the findings on her schedule so that the evolution of the infestation can be followed. “Just because in certain pear planting rows the research revolves around Stemphylium disease doesn’t mean that’s the only thing I look for. I also look at the general condition of the trees and which insects I see, like ants for example, because those are indicators for lice. But I also look for other diseases. This way we have a good idea of the current state of the field, in different locations at the different trials.”

A visit to a trial in a plantation can go very quickly, but can also easily take several hours, and the morning often passes unnoticed.

“Stopping for food on the road is something I rarely do,” says Eveline. “I prefer to eat small things, such as fruit or a sandwich, throughout the day.”

When arrived at a grower, Eveline walks up and down a few rows of fruit. Between two rows of trees a mixture of herbs and flowers is sown. Bunches of hollow branches are hanging from the wires between the trees. These are all interventions to attract natural enemies to the plantation. “When we attract natural enemies in a plantation, it would be a shame for them to suffer from an insecticide too. Therefore, it is also important to choose selective agents that only attack the pest but do not negatively affect the population of beneficial insects present in the plantation. Biology and chemistry must go hand in hand.” Eveline’s background comes in handy during on-site discussions with growers about the culture and products, which can be animated at times. She not only has the theoretical knowledge, but can also look back on extensive practical experience.

Her visit to a farm is also always a good time to take a closer look at some of the fruits that are being sorted. For example, with fruit that has been stored for a long time, Eveline is always curious to know how a certain fungus has evolved during the past months. In crates that come out of the storage cell, she looks for affected fruit. If any are found, Eveline cuts the fruit lengthwise and uses a magnifying glass to look for the infestation. The results are then briefly discussed with the manager.

“There are days when I stay close to home, in Sint-Truiden, but I also regularly follow up on the tests we have in plantations in the Waasland region. When growers have questions about a certain crop, diseases they do not (yet) know or to check the effect of a pesticide, grower visits with customers can take place all over Belgium. Those make for longer working days, but they are just as important. Our office is located in Diegem, near Brussels, but I rarely go there. My office is in the field,” she laughs.

At the end of the afternoon it is time to get back behind the desk to enter the results of the day into the summary files. “The trials are also used to show dealers and distributors how our products work. We invite them to go over what infestation there was, what spraying schedule was followed and what the results were. That way they stay well informed and the dealers can give their customers the most targeted advice possible.”

Passion for fruit

The workday doesn’t end at 5 p.m. for Eveline. “Fruit is not just my job,” she says, “it’s my passion! I grew up in it, and now spend my days between it. This means that I am often at my computer in the evenings, to read publications, do some extra research or process results. I would never do that if it wasn’t for my passion!”

Eveline’s job evolves with the seasons. From the start of the growing season until the end of the picking season, she can be found among the fruit trees. In the dark months, as Technical Fruit Advisor, she fills her days with technical meetings with dealers or trial centre, stakeholders and grower meetings, where the results of the previous year’s trials are discussed and trials for the next season are proposed.

Women in the sector

“There are certainly female colleagues already active in the sector, as growers or advisors. Women are certainly making steps towards jobs in this branch, even though it’s still a bit of a man’s world. The job of course comes with a lot of field work in all weathers, so you shouldn’t mind standing in the field with boots and rain suit if you have to.”

“In my opinion, women are accepted in this role. Personally, for example, I have never felt that I was not taken seriously. Of course, it can also be an advantage that I grew up in this world,” she says.

“In my current position, I don’t really feel like women are treated differently compared to men, not with the clients and not within Bayer,” she continues. For her, those differences are not necessarily sector-specific, but rather a general mindset. “Some men still have a hard time treating a woman on an equal level and prefer to be ‘above’ them, but I think that’s down to the person and certainly not universal.”

The entire Bayer Belgium Fruit research team consists exclusively of women, Eveline adds. “The collaboration between us ladies and with the other women from our sector is great, and I also have a nice contact with the female growers and advisers I know.”

Should Eveline ever be able to start her own farm, it will obviously be something in the fruit business. That’s her big passion: “I love walking through the orchards, watching the fruit grow and being able to work in the outdoors. It energizes me!”

Bayer employs 7 technical advisers like Eveline, 1 for fruit, 1 for vegetables, 4 for the various arable crops and 1 coordinator. Together they form the Advisory Representatives Team. Bayer has a total of more than 1,000 employees in Belgium, who also serve the Luxembourg market. The vast majority work for Bayer Crop Science, the agricultural division of Bayer. Among the 1,000 employees are 700 people who work in the herbicide plant in Antwerp. The Bayer division in the Netherlands also has 1,000 employees, including at the R&D sites in Bergschenhoek (breeding of greenhouse vegetables) and Wageningen (breeding of field vegetables) and seed processing and packaging in Enkhuizen.

More information about Bayer Crop Science can be found on the website.

This article appeared in Women in Ag Magazine 2021-03. Click here to read the magazine 

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