France’s Ecophyto II plan (which aims to reduce the use of pesticides in agriculture) gives a large amount of consideration to scientific expertise. Since 2012, different research projects have been carried out to develop alternatives to phytosanitary products for crops. This includes the LILLA project, led by a French agricultural and environmental research center in the Provence region, for the production of lettuce in open ground under shelter.
In the southeast of France, lettuce is one of the main vegetables produced. In the winter, it is grown under shelters and may need some chemical treatments against fungi, bacteria and pests.
After six years of experiments and 23 trials, the LILLA project has helped identify techniques allowing to reduce the use of fungicides by up to 70%, for example.
“The role of research is to test alternatives several times, under different conditions, and over several seasons, to be sure to obtain agronomically and economically satisfying results for farmers,” said François Lecompte, a French researcher on the project in Avignon.
For a farmer, a new technique usually poses an economic risk. “On one trial run, for example, researchers lost 23% of the production, which weakens the economic balance too much for a farm to be able to take the risk. The role of prior experimentation is to propose safe alternatives that farmers can then teach to themselves or learn through sharing networks. For example, using certain resistant varieties or new organic techniques, or modifying crop methods like fertilization or irrigation.
Research strives to work under real conditions that the farmer would actually experience and recognize. French research tools and projects like LILLA allow scientists to develop solutions that meet the needs of real farmers and all other partners in the industry. The LILLA project includes partner farms that provide lettuce to real businesses, for example.