Four 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 works on land and at sea. Our research furthers more sustainable animal husbandry, including animal welfare and delivery of high-quality, safe animal products. We also strive for more sustainable exploitation and protection of marine resources/environment. We study fish populations, fisheries techniques, aquaculture and the effect of human activities on the marine ecosystem. We also provide services and products for a variety of clients.

Research Areas:

  • Animal Husbandry
    Scientific Director: Sam De Campeneere
    Cattle Husbandry: Economically, ecologically and socially sustainable dairy and beef production is our focus. Through production, digestibility and balance trials, we evaluate feed, fodder, new feedstuffs and additives. Using open-circuit chambers, we study reduction of emissions (methane) and excretion (N, P). Animal health and welfare are studied. We optimise dairy and beef quality, develop innovative housing systems and perform on-farm research.
    Pig Husbandry: Economically, ecologically and socially sustainable pork production is our focus. We evaluate feed and additives during production, digestibility and balance trials and physiological research. We strive to reduce emissions (ammoniac) and excretions (N, P). We work on animal welfare and health and develop innovative housing systems. We have 140 experimental sows and 900 hybrid pigs; we also do on-farm research.
    Small Livestock Husbandry: In this research, we strive for economically, ecologically and socially sustainable chicken, rabbit and egg production. We evaluate feed and additives during production and perform digestibility and balance trials and physiological research. We try to reduce emissions and excretions (N, P). We work to improve animal welfare and health. We have several hundred experimental units for housing broilers, laying hens, turkeys and rabbits.
  • Aquatic Environment and Quality
    Scientific Director: Hans Polet
    Using an integrated approach (long- and short-term), we study the biological, toxicological and chemical effects of pollution, exotic species, sand extraction and dredging, windmills, fisheries and protected marine areas. We also study all types of marine ecosystems. For fisheries products, we assess the genetic, biological and (bio)chemical quality by developing freshness and authenticity analyses and applying them to the products.
  • Fisheries and Aquatic Production
    Scientific Director: Hans Polet
    This research area studies fisheries biology, fishing gear technology and aquaculture. We study the status of commercial fish stocks and give advice for setting the fishing quota. The ecological and economic effects of (new types of) fishing gear and alternative fishing methods are examined. We study fish/shellfish aquaculture systems at sea as well as in recirculation systems on land. Innovations are implemented using an integrated approach.


The Animal Sciences Unit gives services and advice in various forms, including ANIMALAB. This reference laboratory performs research on animal feed and the nutritional value of animal end-products; determines the quality of fish and shellfish; determines the level of contaminants in environmental samples and fish products; and performs biological environmental research. In the PreventAgri, ADVIS en CIVIS projects (among others), and via contract research for the agricultural industry, the industry sectors can request specialised and technological advice and services.

Social Sciences Unit up

Unit Head: Joris Relaes, ad interim

This socio-economic research unit focuses on the sustainable development of the agricultural industry as well as rural areas in general. We have expertise in resilience, production and market systems, measurement and coaching for sustainability and profitability, strategic development and policymaking, dynamic change processes, participative learning processes, spatial properties and planning, and perception analyses.

Our work focuses on three areas, namely (1) an integrated approach to sustainability, according to various levels of agriculture systems and decision-making, (2) the dynamic dimension of development processes within the agriculture and fisheries sectors and in the countryside, and (3) the spatial aspects and the development of an urbanizing countryside.

The “Agricultural and Farm Development” research area focuses on the dynamics of agriculture industry becoming a competitive and sustainable industry sector. In the Rural Development research area, we study rural change processes and their management.

Research areas:

  • Agricultural and Farm Development
    We study the complexity of choices made to increase sustainability. How does a competitive and sustainable production system function within an environmental, market and policy context? What makes it shock-resistant? We study the resilience of agricultural systems, develop decision support tools and models, study collaboration in the agro-food chain, create sustainability assessment tools and study learning processes in farmer groups.
  • Rural Development
    This research addresses not only the agriculture industry but the rural area as a whole, integrating the complex physical, economic and social contexts. We study the assessment and impact of spatial transformations, understanding and mapping of regional development processes, governance of rural development, and the organization and facilitation of multi-stakeholder processes.

Plant Sciences Unit up

Unit Head: Kristiaan Van Laecke

Plant Sciences studies agriculture, horticulture, energy crops and ornamentals. We study gene characteristics, plant reactions to environmental factors, population diversity, soil characteristics, and plant diseases and plagues. We breed new cultivars and innovate in crop protection and crop husbandry. Plant Sciences’ four research areas are Applied Genetics and Breeding, Crop Husbandry and Environment, Crop Protection, and Growth and Development.

Crop protection research and services include the study and identification of bacteria, fungi, viruses, insects, mites and nematodes that can damage plants and sustainable techniques to control them. Other Plant Sciences researchers work to apply genetics and breeding in various crops, seek to understand the fundamental processes of growth and development of a crop, and to compare different crop husbandry systems to understand their effect on the crop, the soil, and the environment.

Plant Sciences also has a separate Business Unit to develop and market high-quality base material (seeds and grafts), to diagnose plant diseases and plagues, to perform chemical analyses on feed, soil and substrate, and to detect and control quarantine organisms.

Research areas:

  • Crop Protection
    Scientific Director: Martine Maes
    Crop protection research includes acarology, bacteriology, entomology, mycology, nematology and virology. The main topics are (i) the reliable identification and typing of the pathogens, (ii) better knowledge of the plant-pathogen relation, and (iii) developing alternative protection strategies using IPM in various plant cultivation systems.
  • Growth and Development
    Scientific Director: Isabel Roldán-Ruiz
    Here we perform fundamental research on plant genomic function and interaction with environmental factors. Which molecular and physiological processes explain growth, development and their interaction with light, humidity or temperature? Using advanced technologies, we study plant physiology, biochemistry, image analysis, genetics and genomics. This knowledge is applied in innovative crop husbandry and breeding techniques.
  • Crop Husbandry and Environment
    Scientific Director: Johan Van Waes
    This research aims for yield improvement and high-quality, sustainable plant production with respect for people, animals and the environment. We optimize and evaluate (new) crop husbandry techniques (rotations, new crops, soil management, nutrients) and seed processing techniques. We develop sustainable soil management and organize official variety testing. Some interface exists between crop husbandry and environment/nature.
    Presentation Crop Husbandry and Environment (pdf)
  • Applied Genetics and Breeding
    Scientific Director: Johan Van Huylenbroeck
    In this research area, we survey the genetic diversity, habitat and evolution over time of plant populations. Relationships between and among genetic sources are applied to breeding. This breeding research includes development and use of molecular markers, embryo rescue, polyploidization and protoplast fusion. We make (interspecific) crosses with improved disease resistance, better use of nutrients, drought resistance, and more.

Technology and Food Science Unit up

Unit Head: Lieve Herman

This unit comprises three research areas (Agricultural Engineering, Food Safety, and Product Quality and Innovation). Technical, mathematical and IT methods support mechanisation and automation in production. We study the safety (microbiological and chemical) and quality of all types of foodstuffs. We develop methods to detect GMOs and allergens and to determine authenticity. We seek new functions and valorisation of food products.

In the Agricultural Engineering research area, our researchers and engineers combine traditional technical competency with modern mathematical and IT-based methods. In Food Safety, we study the microbiological and chemical safety and quality of food products of animal and plant origin. The research about project quality and innovation focuses on the authenticity of animal and plant products, including GMOs and allergens, and the improvement of the functional quality and valorization of foodstuffs.

Among the services provided by the Technology and Food Safety Unit are accredited lab analyses regarding the authenticity and safety of foodstuffs (including GMO analyses). This unit also functions as the National Reference Lab for milk and milk products, for the determination of the water content in poultry meat, for allergies and for GMOs, and performs reference tasks for the Milk Control Center of Flanders (MCC). We have an accredited lab for spray technology, a certification service for spray equipment and a service for monitoring certified milk- and cooling-tank technicians. Clients from industry and research institutions can try new food and feed processing techniques in the new Food Pilot food processing plant. We also measure the emissions from animal housing as well as performs measurements for calibrating spray equipment. We also give advice for new practices and technology on dairy farms, dairy producers (in the “TAD Zuivel” project) and SMEs.

Research areas:

  • Agricultural Engineering
    Scientific Director: Jürgen Vangeyte
    We develop innovative animal and environment-friendly agricultural systems with solid expertise in precision livestock farming, emissions, energy use, spray application techniques, and fertiliser spreaders. We integrate these novelties into innovative production systems. We combine technical competence with mathematical and IT-based methods. We build prototypes and develop experimental setups in our own workshop.
  • Product Quality and Innovation
    Scientific Director: Marc De Loose
    Optimal processing of primary agricultural products (plant and animal) into quality food, feed and non-food products is our focus, particularly dairy, meat and fish products, ready-made meals, vegetables and fruits. We study quality improvement, authenticity, nutritional and functional properties, taste, nutrition and health, detection of GMOs and allergens, valorisation of secondary flows and new applications from plant biotechnology.
  • Food Safety
    Scientific Director: Marc Heyndrickx
    Here we study the microbiological and chemical safety of food products along the entire production chain. We test analytical methods for detecting zoonotic pathogens, spoilage organisms and veterinary drug residues, and research control and remedial measures. We also study cleaning and disinfection, antibiotic resistance, virulence and/or persistence of pathogens and spoilage organisms, migration from packaging, and mycotoxins.