Gers, France, is an agricultural district (Nuts 3) in South West of France. Gers is a highly agricultural and rural territory: agriculture provides 12% of employment. It is the 8th French country (out of 100) in terms of field crops (CAO, 2017). Since the early 2000s, the number of farms has dropped significantly (CAO, 2017): in 15 years, from 2002 to 2017, Gers lost 1,416 farms (a decline of nearly 20%). The average farm size has increased sharply, well above the national average, now standing at 86.5 hectares (against 63 hectares – AGRESTE, 2018). Gers is an agricultural area with a high level of crop diversification.
Gers is located close to Toulouse, a city that concentrates a large number of aerospace research and commercial companies. There is a strong connection between the city and Gers, as many commuters leave Gers every day to work in Toulouse (18% of the working population). We assumed that the presence of drones and satellite companies in Toulouse would have made Gers a county with a strong potential for the development of precision farming tools.
The study focuses on a technological innovation embedded in precision farming. Crop input modulation tools based on drones and satellite images give aerial pictures of the crops, which are turned into maps of agronomic indexes. An algorithm based on a plant growth model then generates crop input modulation maps. These maps are expected to propose the “optimal” dose of fertilizer to be sprayed, accounting for intra-field heterogeneity. The promoter of these tools thus claims that they constitute a crucial means to green agricultural production. Official programmes are emerging across Europe to foster their dissemination.
However, there are still controversies about the impacts of these technologies on the farming system, particularly its sustainability, and their assessment is a major issue. As farms are too small to conduct meaningful R&D activities to assess the potential of such technologies, R&D is mainly conducted off-farm, by intermediary actors, such as advisory organizations and applied research institutes. These intermediaries differ, but in many European countries they are still collective organizations controlled by farmers. This is the case in France with the Chambers of Agriculture and applied research institutes, which own experimental stations throughout the country, where the potential of new technologies for farmers is tested (new seeds, chemicals, etc.). Intermediary actors are supposed to play a major role in the development of new technological tools in agriculture by assessing their impacts and reducing the uncertainty around their use.
The aim of this survey is to better understand the role played by advisory organizations in the development and assessment of these technologies for and with farmers, and in farmers’ decisions to adopt them or not.
Full report is available here.
National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE)
INRAE (formerly INRA) is France’s public National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment. The team involved in AgriLink involves three research units from the division Sciences for Action and Development of the Institute. INRAE coordinates AgriLink; the team has experience in former EU projects on farm advice, including PRO AKIS, and published various papers on these issues.