Four research units

ILVO's four research units are Animal Sciences, Social SciencesPlant Sciences and Technology and Food Science.

Animal Sciences Unit up

Unit Head: Bart Sonck

The Animal Sciences Unit directs scientific research into sustainable animal husbandry (cattle, pigs and small livestock) and the exploitation of marine resources, the protection of the continental and marine environment, the promotion of animal welfare and the provision of quality and safe animal-based end products. The unit also provides specific services for the government and the sector.


The service and advice of the Animal Sciences Unit is done in the ANIMALAB. In this reference laboratory, animal nutrition research is performed and the nutritional value of animal end products is checked. In addition, we also measure the quality of fish, crustaceans and molluscs, determine contaminants in environmental samples and fat of fisheries products, and conduct biological environmental research. Via Preventagri, ADVIS and CIVIS, and other projects, and via contract research for the ag industry, the sectors can order specialized technological advice and services.

Research Areas:

  • Animal Husbandry
    Scientific Director: Sam De Campeneere
    Cattle Husbandry: The main aim here is to make the dairy and meat cattle sectors more sustainable. This research team has expertise in
    - determination of nutritional values and nutrient requirements
    - optimization of feed (fodder and concentrates) / valorisation of (new) residual streams as feed and of additives / influence of animal emissions (methane) and excretions (nitrogen, phosphorus) / improved animal health & animal welfare / upgrading of milk and meat quality / innovations in terms of animal housing.
    ILVO has an experimental dairy herd with around 100 lactating Holstein cows and 60 suckler cows.

    Pig farming: The main aim is to make pig farming more sustainable, both economically and environmentally. ILVO has expertise in:
    - adjusting feed strategy and additives to nutritional requirements to help minimize emissions (ammonia) and excretions (nitrogen, phosphorus)
    - optimization of animal health, animal welfare and meat quality
    - innovations in pig housing
    - knowledge building and reduction of boar taint.

    ILVO has experimental housing for 140 sows and 900 meat pigs.

    Small Livestock Farming: The main aim is to increase the sustainability of poultry farming (laying, broiler chickens, turkeys) and rabbits. ILVO has expertise in
    - evaluation of and adjustment of feed strategy and additives according to nutritional requirements (feed and production tests, digestion and balance tests, physiological research)
    - control of animal emission and excretions (nitrogen, phosphorus)
    - optimization of animal welfare and of meat and egg quality.

    ILVO has experimental poultry houses and other animal housing with small test units that allow many treatments and replicates.

  • Aquatic Environment and Quality
    Scientific Director: Hans Polet
    We take stock of biological, toxicological, chemical effects of pollution & waste, exotics, sand and gravel extraction, dredging, windmills, fishing activities, and marine protected areas. We study ecosystems in different habitats (macro and epibenthos, fish, plankton). We monitor quality, freshness and authenticity of fish and seafood. We develop analysis tools and improvement strategies for all of the above.

  • Fisheries and Aquatic Production
    Scientific Director: Hans Polet
    This research area includes fisheries biology, fishing technology and aquaculture. We inventory fish stocks and give scientific advice on quotas and sustainable fisheries. From the technical knowledge of the gear we study species-selective and ecological adaptations and alternative fishing methods. We develop aquaculture systems for fish and shellfish at sea and in recirculation systems on land. Through an integrated approach we implement these scientific innovations.

Social Sciences Unit up

Unit Head: Joris Relaes, ad interim

The Social Sciences Unit is the socio-economic pillar of ILVO. In 2006, the following mission was developed for this unit: 'Offering a scientifically-based clarification of societal choices around sustainable and competitive Flemish agriculture and fisheries '.

This mission and the expectations of the customers (government, sector and researchers) have coalesced this research around three points: (1) The integral approach to sustainability, according to various levels of agricultural systems and decision-making, (2) The dynamic dimension of development processes within the agricultural and fisheries sector and in rural areas and (3) the spatial properties and the development of the urbanizing countryside.

The dynamics in the department and its research focus provide a flexible organization of our research and a broader mission that also encompasses the social context of an evolving countryside. The department is organized into two research domains: (1) farm and sector development and (2) rural development. The first is focused on the dynamics of agriculture with the aim of helping it become more competitive and sustainable while the second research group studies change processes and their management in rural areas.

Research areas:

  • Business and sector development
    This group unravels the complexity of choices in the sustainability process. How does a competitive and sustainable production system operate within a real physical environment, market and policy environment. What makes it resilient? We develop decision support calculation programs and models. We explore collaborations in the agri-food chain. We build tools for assessing sustainability. We explore and unravel learning processes among stakeholders.
  • Rural Development
    Rural areas in their entirety are central to this research; it does not only focus on the agricultural function per se, but also on the complex physical, economic and social context. We examine the specific characteristics of regions. We assess the impact of spatial transformations and the possibilities of steering, controlling and monitoring rural developments. We analyze participatory processes with actors that we bring together.

Plant Sciences Unit up

Unit Head: Kristiaan Van Laecke

The Plant Sciences Unit studies all aspects of primary plant production, from soil to pathogen. In the context of crop protection, researchers study and identify the bacteria, fungi, viruses, insects, mites and nematodes that can plague plants and sustainable ways to combat them. Plant Sciences researchers also work on applied genetics and breeding, investigating the fundamental processes of growth and development of a crop, and comparing cultivation systems and their effect on the crop, soil quality and the environment.

This research unit also has a separate Business Unit which is responsible for the development and marketing of high quality starting material (seeds, cuttings), a Diagnostic Center for Plants (diagnosis of plant diseases and pests), chemical analyses on forage solutions, soil and substrate and detection and control of quarantine organisms.

Two Scientific Directors share responsibility for all research areas in the Plant Sciences Unit: Isabel Roldán-Ruiz and Johan Van Huylenbroeck.

Research areas:

  • Crop Protection
    The plant protection researchers cover the areas of acarology (mites), bacteriology, entomology, mycology, nematology and virology. We identify and type plant pathogens, often through molecular research. We clarify the relationship between the pathogen and its host plant. We develop alternative management strategies (but no phyto products) in the framework of IPM in various cultivation systems. Diagnostics are an important derivative of this research.
  • Growth and Development
    Here fundamental research is done on the operation of plants and their interaction with environmental factors. Which molecular and physiological processes explain growth, development and interaction with light, moisture, cold...? The experts master advanced technologies in plant physiology, biochemistry, image analysis, genetics and genomics. We translate our knowledge into innovative cultivation methods and breeding applications.
  • Crop Husbandry and Environment
    The aim of this research is to improve the yield and quality of plant productions in a sustainable way with respect for humans, animals and the environment. The experts optimize and evaluate (new) cultivation techniques (rotations, new crops, soil processing, nutrients) and seed harvest techniques. We develop knowledge and techniques related to sustainable soil management. The interface between agriculture and the environment/nature is explored. We also organize official variety tests..
    Presentation Crop Husbandry and Environment (pdf)
  • Applied Genetics and Breeding
    This group maps the genetic diversity and habitat and time evolution of plant populations. Affinities within and between genetic sources get applications in breeding. The breeding research involves the development and use of molecular markers, embryo rescue, polyploidizaton and protoplast fusion. We make (interspecific) crossings with improved disease resistance, nutrient or water use, among others..

Technology and Food Science Unit up

Unit Head: Lieve Herman

In the field of Agricultural Engineering, the Technology and Food Science Unit is on the cutting edge of mechanization in agriculture. These research groups combine traditional technical competences with modern mathematical and IT-based methods. Food Safety is also in the spotlight: Researchers study the microbiological and chemical safety and quality of foodstuffs of animal and vegetable origin. The research on product quality and innovation focuses on the authenticity of animal and plant products, including GMOs and allergens and on improving the functional quality and valorization of foodstuffs.

Services are performed in the context of accredited laboratory analyses on food authenticity and food safety (including GMO analyses). Activities within the National Reference Laboratory for milk and milk products, and the determination of the water content in poultry meat, for allergens and for GMOs, reference tasks for the Milk Control Center of Flanders (MCC). ILVO has an accredited laboratory for spraying technology, an inspection service for sprayers and a service for the follow-up of approved milk and cooling tank technicians. Customers from industry and research institutes can test new food and feed process techniques in the renewed Food Pilot processing plant. Emission measurements of animal housing are done as well as measurements for the adjustment of sprayers. Advice is available on new practices and technologies for dairy farms, dairy producers (TAD Dairy) and SMEs.

Research areas:

  • Agricultural Engineering
    Scientific Director: Jürgen Vangeyte
    We develop and evaluate animal- and environmentally friendly farming systems. Our teams have solid expertise in spraying technology, fertilizer spreaders, emissions (measurement and reduction), energy, precision livestock farming and the integration of these techniques into sustainable innovative production systems. We combine technical competences with mathematical and IT-based methods. We build prototypes and test configurations in our own workshop.
  • Product Quality and Innovation
    Scientific Director: Marc De Loose
    The research aims at optimal processing of primary (animal & plant) products into food, feed and non-food applications. We have expertise in quality improvements, authenticity, nutritional and functional characteristics, taste, relationship nutritional health, detection of GMOs and allergens, valorization of side- and waste streams, and new applications from plant biotech. We work on all types of foods: dairy, meat/fish and fruit/vegetables.
  • Food Safety
    Scientific Director: Marc Heyndrickx
    We investigate microbiological and chemical safety of foodstuffs throughout the production chain. We develop and test analytical methods for zoonotic pathogens, spoilage organisms and residues of veterinary medicines. We formulate control and remedial measures. Special topics include cleaning and disinfection, antibiotic resistance, virulence and/or persistence of pathogens and spoilage organisms, chemical migration from packaging materials, and mycotoxins.