Together, 600 delegates design tomorrow’s cereal production

Research and innovation are two of the drivers that will help the cereal sector to cope with the transition it must face. The 600 delegates attending the PHLOEME Conference held at the Cité des sciences in Paris on 24th and 25th January were able to talk and share their knowledge, with the common aim of facilitating the emergence of innovative solutions that will improve all the different aspects of cereal production systems performance. Two young scientists received an award for their promising theses, the first one focussing on system robustness and resilience indicators, and the other one presenting a bold agro-ecological prototype for wheat fertilisation management.

Agriculture is under the spotlight. Weather dependent, sensitive to societal expectations, and under economic pressure, its role remains to feed people while implementing new solutions in a transitional context. The conclusions of the Etats Généraux de l’Alimentation will outline possible future scenarios, each of which will create the need for research work. PHLOEME provided some reference data and knowledge that will facilitate progress and are close to being translated into operational solutions.

User and research-focussed

The point and innovative characteristic of the PHLOEME Conference is to attract scientists and experts as well as the end users of research (teachers, development advisors, companies, farmers, etc.). Presentations from experts coming from various backgrounds (INRA, universities, technical Institutes, private research organisations) provide a mix of competences. Through this variety of sources, PHLOEME aims to help delegates build an overall picture, and to strengthen the link between research and its end users, in order to structure and support ambitious projects addressing common priorities, and together, to design tomorrow’s cereal production.

Two young award winners

PHLOEME’s organisers rewarded young scientists whose thesis work produced remarkable innovations for the cereal sector. Fifteen theses were shortlisted, two of which were singled out for an award.
Christine CHERBUT, President of PHLOEME’s Scientific Committee, presented the trophy for the most promising thesis in the “Innovative methodology” category to Nicolas URRUTY (Agrosolutions) for his “Caractérisation de la robustesse des performances agricoles: cas du rendement du blé tendre face aux aléas climatiques” (Characterisation of the robustness of agricultural performance: the case of soft wheat yields in relation to weather conditions). This thesis, with a very significant methodological content, proposes new formalisms to help qualify and quantify robustness and resilience indicators that will be utilised to develop other themes.
The second trophy, in the “Tools and services” category, was awarded to Clémence RAVIER (INRA) for “Conception innovante d’une méthode de fertilisation azotée, articulation entre diagnostic des usages, ateliers participatifs et modélisation” (Innovative way of designing a nitrogen fertilisation method, combining usage diagnosis, interactive workshops and modelling). This thesis provides a bold, innovative and useful agro-ecological prototype that is quasi-operational, to manage and control nitrogen fertilisation in wheat.

Combining genetics, resource efficiency, integrated protection and digital innovation to achieve economic, environmental and societal performance.

The debate on yield and quality improvement, as well as of their consistency year on year in various environmental and production contexts was one of the highlights of the Conference. Analysing accurately the effects of climate change is a key stage in the process of designing most relevant solutions. The Conference was used to present the most recent findings in the field of genetics and varietal improvement, including regarding the most limiting factors for production and quality in France (nitrogen and drought), but also in relation with bio-aggressors.

With regards to water and nitrogen availability, some decision support tools and new practices in emerging systems now complement genetic action levers, to go beyond simply advising on varietal choices. It is clear that taking into account the soil as a significant dynamic component and contributing factor of high performance agro-ecology, is key to reducing resource use and maximising input efficiency, i.e. to keep producing as much, or even more, with less, and sustainably with new solutions.

Integrated protection is being revolutionised, with very encouraging possibilities for the future, such as using “natural scents” produced by plants to manage pests, stimulating plants’ natural defences, including against major diseases, and using agronomy and agricultural equipment, such as robots, to seriously reduce the use of herbicides.

The digital revolution has introduced
new ways of managing crops very precisely, from high throughput phenotyping to design tomorrow’s varieties, to bringing forward the availability of operational solutions for farmers and the various agricultural sectors by utilising “big data”, and using social media that see farmers playing an active role both in research activity and reference data dissemination.

The proceedings of the PHLOEME Conference (in French) are available from Arvalis publishing – price €75 + postage.
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