Stéphane Le Foll, French Minister for Agriculture, Food Industry and Forestry, launched a cooperative web platform called “Agriculture: Producing in a Different Way” on September 21, 2012. This approach aims to highlight the new and innovative agricultural models in France, which you will find described in this article.

In order to bypass the limits of an agriculture mostly based on chemistry and the simplification on cultural systems, numerous actors have been researching, testing, and proposing for over a century. In the last 20 years, new advancements have multiplied and created new possibilities for agriculture. The direct consequence is the development of the vocabulary related to all the new systems. In parallel to the French Minister for Agriculture, Food Industry and Forestry, Stephane Le Foll’s support for these new practices and “producing in a different way” let’s have a look at the new existing alternatives.

Three initiatives in a regulatory Framework

Organic agriculture

©Cheick.saidou/Min.Agri.Fr

©Cheick.saidou/Min.Agri.Fr

Organic agriculture is one of the oldest alternative practices in agriculture. It appeared around the 1920s but has only been developed internationally since 1972. Defined theoretically as “a set of agricultural practices respecting ecological balances and farmers’ autonomy,” it aims at “soil, natural resources and environment conservation and farmers upholding ”, in parallel with solidarity values between farmers and international ecological contributers. But the definition of organic agriculture is also technical: this type of production rules out the use of synthetic chemicals and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), in addition to limiting the use of farm inputs . Mechanical weeding, composting, organic fertilization, organic competition (plant protection with the help of living organisms), and simplified soil work are some of the techniques used by organic farmers. In 2012’s first quarter, 24,000 producers were engaged in organic agriculture in France.

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High Environmental Value agriculture: Grenelle’s certification

©Cheick.saidou/Min.Agri.Fr

©Cheick.saidou/Min.Agri.Fr

The “High Environmental Value” agricultural certification (HVE) rests upon the environmental certification for agricultural operations, implemented in the framework of the “Environmental Grenelle” and managed by several decrees. Its main objective is to promote and highlight the “ongoing evolutions in agricultural practices.” It concerns four main themes: biodiversity, pesticides, fertilizer management and water resources. There are three successive levels of demand: the first level corresponds to the respect of the environmental standards required by the CAP for the payment of European aids to agriculture. It leads to the second level, requiring compliance with 16 standards included in a reference document (reason with provisions of synthetic products and avoiding environmental accidents). The third level of the environmental certification rests upon the respect of results indicatives . At the end of 2012, almost 3,500 producers were engaged at the second level and at least 15 of them had acquired the certification HVE (level three).

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Best Management Practices in agriculture: adjusting supplies

The main objective of the Best Management Practices in agriculture is to “reinforce the positive environmental impacts of agricultural practices and to reduce the negative effects, without jeopardizing the economic profitability of the operation.” It is a global approach to agricultural operations which defines itself as productive but not productivist and doesn’t forbid the use of synthesis products in order to protect plants and animals. It is based on an official bill of specifications, the national reference document for agriculture, adopted in 2002 and updated.

Initiatives Outside a Regulatory Framework

Biodynamic agriculture: a variation of organic agriculture

Biodynamic agriculture is based on organic agriculture but disposes of concepts and additional practices. The main concept is to consider the farm as an agricultural organism integrating wild fauna and flora and reconstituting a rich and diversified landscape. This way of producing goes from the fabrication, the use and the stimulation of biodynamic mixes and the awareness of the influences of stars (moon, sun, planets…), according to the Biodynamic Agriculture Movement (MABD).

Conservation agriculture: “King soil”

Conservation agriculture emphasizes soil. Its objective is to be profitable and sustainable. It has three main attributes: a minimum amount of tilling (sometimes excluding plowing), the practice of covering the soil by plants throughout the year, and the choice of species and succession of appropriate cultures. These techniques aim to maintain fertility and restore soil structure.

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Sustainable agriculture: an important gap

© Min.agri.fr

© Min.agri.fr

Sustainable agriculture is defined differently depending on the network it concerns. These definitions can vary widely but the common point is the notion of sustainable development. The two main organizations are controlled by the French Sustainable agricultural network (RAD partnered with Civam – Centers of initiatives enhancing agriculture and rural world) and the network Inpact (Initiatives for a citizen and territorial agriculture), are proposing the following definition: an “economically viable agriculture, good for the environment and socially fair.” RAD proposes a 12-point bill of specifications (including forbidden GMOs, animal flour, antibiotics and hormones.) On the other hand, the Sustainable agriculture Institute (IAD) refuses the idea of a bill of specifications and does not forbid any particular practice (including the use of GMOs), but recommends testing them in order to determine the most relevant practice. IAD defines sustainable agriculture as the “joint optimization of three axes: economic, societal and environmental” and holds that it must take into account five categories: food production, natural resources conservation, climate change struggle, getting out of the “all-oil” energy model, and enhancing biodiversity.

A vision of more sustainable agriculture: “High Biomass Cropping Systems”.
Indeed, biological sustainability at the local level is about maintaining
and improving soil fertility. Increased plant biomass density in the field is the key to increasing agricultural sustainability, while producing high yields. Promoting co-operative crop plants, that do not “waste” resources
competing with one another is another way of enhancing bioligical sustainability.

Ecologically Intensive Agriculture (AEI): an integrated concept

Ecologically Intensive Agriculture (AEI), theorized by Michel Griffon, a French agricultural engineer and economist, aims at using intensive ecological mechanisms in order to replace at a maximum level the conventional inputs. It’s about accentuating the ecological functions of an agricultural system, such as the storage of organic materials in soil, photosynthesis, and the ability to purify water. AEI aims at reducing the use of pesticides, fertilizers or synthetic veterinary medications, without forbidding their use completely.

Family-farmed agriculture: a strong social component

Family-farmed agriculture is defined by the Fadear (Federation of Organizations for the Development of Agricultural and Rural Employment) and the Rural Confederation as an agriculture that “must allow a maximum number of farmers distributed across the territory to live properly off their jobs while producing healthy and quality food on a human-size operation without jeopardizing the future of natural resources.” It must be economically efficient and respect the consumer and nature. A charter of family-farmed agriculture has been adopted. It contains ten commitments, matched with environmental and socio-economic indicators.

Precision agriculture: maximizing with the help of technology

Precision agriculture is based on new technologies (GPS, instantaneous yield calculation by harvesters) in order to adjust and regulate the pesticides, fertilizers, water inputs and soil work, with great accuracy. The objective is to maximize the agronomic, economic and ecological results in agriculture. The enhancement of analysis and advices’ tools is also part of the process.

Agroforestry: the tree is back in the fields

©Xavier Remongin/Min.agri.fr

©Xavier Remongin/Min.agri.fr

Agroforestry is based on associating trees and agricultures, by adding them throughout or on the sides of fields. The objective is to take advantage of the agronomic qualities of the tree in an agricultural environment: storage of air carbon in soil, its roots structure’s benefit to soil, and the presence of leaves which fall to the ground and fertilize the arable soil below.

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Integrated production: coupling chemistry, technique and agronomy

The main objective of integrated production is to reduce the use of chemistry without affecting the produced quantities. It aims firstly at preventing diseases and parasites, and secondly at protecting cultures and combining at a maximum scale the mechanic, chemical, biological and agronomic solution possible with an integrated production model.

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