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Putting agricultural equipment and digital technologies at the cutting edge of agroecology

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Abstract

The agro-ecological transition is an ambitious challenge. It can be met by implementing the fundamentals of agroecology (use of biodiversity, integration of agriculture in landscapes, closure of flow loops) in the context of a broad and renewed offer of technologies: agro-equipment, biotechnology, digital technologies… This article explores the role that agro-equipment and digital services can play in this transition. These technologies contribute through various levers to the agro-ecological transition: by improving farming efficiency (more service rendered for the same environmental impact), by precision farming (adaptation of the operations to the needs of the plant or the animal based on a monitoring–diagnosis–recommendation cycle) and by the development of specialized machinery helping the farmer to achieve “flow loop-closing” (at the plot level, by maintaining the soil quality, or at the farm level, with the recycling of organic effluents) or to take advantage of biodiversity (e.g., with agro-equipment adapted to mixed crops). The technological bricks that are requested and for which advances are expected are: sensors (to measure plant or animal needs) and associated digital technologies (information transfer, data processing), precision technologies for input application, robotics, specialized machines to manage soil cover and weeds, or for agroforestry. The brakes and engines for innovation in agro-equipment are studied. The brakes are the generally small structure of the farm manufacturing companies, the deficit of the demand from farmers and the complexity − either real or perceived − of these equipments. To encourage innovation, several levers are to be used: involving users in the design of agro-equipments, creating financial incentives for innovative equipment purchase, and training end-users, prescribers and dealers to the high potential of these new technologies. In conclusion, putting agro-equipment and digital technology at the service of agroecology is not a straightforward route, but it is above all a real opportunity to produce better, technically and organizationally, with the emergence of new solidarities (sharing of data and knowledge). This is why it is absurd, as it is sometimes read, to oppose agroecology and technology. Agroecology is a set of practices to be built, while agro-equipment and digital technologies are a set of resources to be mobilized, with others, to achieve the objectives of sustainable agricultural production.
Topical issue on:
AGRO-ÉCOLOGIE
AGRO-ECOLOGY
RESEARCH ARTICLE
Putting agricultural equipment and digital technologies
at the cutting edge of agroecology
Véronique Bellon Maurel
1,*
and Christian Huyghe
2
1
Irstea, #DigitAg Convergence Laboratory, 1 rue Pierre-Gilles-de-Gennes, 92761 Antony cedex, France
2
INRA, 147 rue de lUniversité, 75338 Paris cedex 07, France
Received 21 May 2017 Accepted 15 May 2017
Abstract The agro-ecological transition is an ambitious challenge. It can be met by implementing the
fundamentals of agroecology (use of biodiversity, integration of agriculture in landscapes, closure of ow
loops) in the context of a broad and renewed offer of technologies: agro-equipment, biotechnology, digital
technologies... This article explores the role that agro-equipment and digital services can play in this
transition. These technologies contribute through various levers to the agro-ecological transition: by
improving farming efciency (more service rendered for the same environmental impact), by precision
farming (adaptation of the operations to the needs of the plant or the animal based on a monitoring
diagnosisrecommendation cycle) and by the development of specialized machinery helping the farmer to
achieve ow loop-closing(at the plot level, by maintaining the soil quality, or at the farm level, with the
recycling of organic efuents) or to take advantage of biodiversity (e.g., with agro-equipment adapted to
mixed crops). The technological bricks that are requested and for which advances are expected are: sensors
(to measure plant or animal needs) and associated digital technologies (information transfer, data
processing), precision technologies for input application, robotics, specialized machines to manage soil
cover and weeds, or for agroforestry. The brakes and engines for innovation in agro-equipment are studied.
The brakes are the generally small structure of the farm manufacturing companies, the decit of the demand
from farmers and the complexity either real or perceived of these equipments. To encourage innovation,
several levers are to be used: involving users in the design of agro-equipments, creating nancial incentives
for innovative equipment purchase, and training end-users, prescribers and dealers to the high potential of
these new technologies. In conclusion, putting agro-equipment and digital technology at the service of
agroecology is not a straightforward route, but it is above all a real opportunity to produce better, technically
and organizationally, with the emergence of new solidarities (sharing of data and knowledge). This is why it
is absurd, as it is sometimes read, to oppose agroecology and technology. Agroecology is a set of practices to
be built, while agro-equipment and digital technologies are a set of resources to be mobilized, with others, to
achieve the objectives of sustainable agricultural production.
Keywords: agricultural equipment / digital technologies / agroecology / optimization / farm machinery / digital agriculture /
IoT / precision agriculture
Résumé Lagroéquipement et les technologies numériques, possibles leviers de lagroécologie?
La transition agroécologique est un challenge ambitieux qui pourra être relevé en mettant en œuvre les
fondamentaux de lagroécologie (utilisation de la biodiversité, insertion de lagriculture dans les paysages,
bouclage des ux) dans le cadre dune offre large et renouvelée de technologies : agroéquipements,
biotechnologies, numérique... Cet article étudie le rôle que peuvent jouer les agroéquipements et services
numériques dans cette transition. Ces technologies contribuent via divers leviers à la transition
agroécologique, via lamélioration de lefcacité (plus de service rendu pour le même impact
environnemental), lagriculture de précision (adaptation aux besoins de la plante dans un cycle de type
« observation diagnostic préconisation application ») et le développement de machines spéciales
pour implémenter le bouclage des ux (au niveau de la parcelle, en maintenant la qualité des sols, ou au
Topical Issue
*Corresponding author: veronique.bellon@irstea.fr
OCL
©V. Bellon Maurel and C. Huyghe, published by EDP Sciences, 2017
DOI: 10.1051/ocl/2017028
Oilseeds & fats Crops and Lipids
OCL
Available online at:
www.ocl-journal.org
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits
unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
niveau de lexploitation, avec le recyclage des efuents organiques) ou pour tirer parti de la biodiversité
(agroéquipements adaptés aux cultures mixtes par exemple). Les briques technologiques qui sont
sollicitées et pour lesquelles des avancées sont attendues sont : les capteurs (pour mesurer lexpression des
besoins des plantes ou des animaux) et le numérique (transfert dinformation, traitement de données), les
technologies de précision pour lapplication dintrants, la robotique, les machines spéciales pour gérer la
couverture du sol ou pour lagroforesterie. Les freins et les moteurs pour linnovation en agroéquipements
sont étudiés. Côté freins, ont été identiés la petite structure des agroéquipementiers, le décit de la
demande et la complexité réelle ou perçue de ces équipements. Pour favoriser linnovation, plusieurs
leviers sont actionnables : associer les utilisateurs (agriculteurs, entrepreneurs) à la conception des
agroéquipements, créer des incitations nancières à lachat déquipements innovants, et ennformer,
non seulement les utilisateurs naux mais aussi les prescripteurs et concessionnaires au potentiel de
ces nouvelles technologies. En conclusion, mettre les agroéquipements et le numérique au service
de lagroécologie est une voie peu banale, mais qui est aussi et surtout une réelle opportunité
de produire autrement, dun point de vue technique et organisationnel, avec lémergence de nouvelles
solidarités (partage des données, partage des savoirs). Cest pourquoi il est absurde, comme on le lit parfois,
dopposer ces deux entités, lagroécologie bouquet de pratiques à construire et lagroéquipement et le
numérique bouquet de ressources à mobiliser, avec dautres, pour atteindre les objectifs dune production
agricole durable.
Mots clés : agro-équipement / numérique / agroécologie / optimisation / machinisme / IoT / agriculture numérique
Agroecology denes a new paradigm to design farming
systems that are more environment-friendly and more efcient
in their use of resources. In 2013, at the Paris Agroecology
and Researchsymposium
1
, the three main leverages for
agroecology were identied. These are the support and
creation of biodiversity and functional diversity, the integra-
tion of agriculture and landscape and the control of the more
signicant biogeochemical substances in a closed loop system.
This new approach, which marks a turning point in
agricultural production methods, builds on practices that have
been developed over several decades, such as optimizing the
efciency of agricultural inputs in plant and animal production,
replacing synthetic inputs and limiting the ow of pollutants in
the environment.
The key role of farm machinery in this transition was also
highlighted at the Paris conference. This paper examines the
major issues that arise in the relationship between agricultural
equipment and the agroecology challenge: how could farm
machinery play a role in the transition towards agroecology?
What technologies should be developed? And what are the
obstacles and drivers for the development of these technolo-
gies?
1 Three areas of innovation in agricultural
equipment for an agroecological future
Starting with the fact that the objectives of agroecology are
to increase economic, environmental and also social perfor-
mances, we can identify three areas of innovation where
agricultural equipment is able to contribute through introduc-
tion of both new technologies and new practices.
1.1 Increasing efciency
As a general rule, all improvements in the efciency of
agricultural equipment contribute to the reduction of:
consumption of fossil fuels, water and other agricultural
inputs;
physical impacts on soils (compaction, disintegration,
erosion, etc.);
release of contaminants in environmental compartments
(water, soil, air).
All this is deemed benecial in that it reduces environ-
mental impacts while increasing efciency, thereby improving
economic performance.
1.2 Use of precision technologies
Precision agriculture and precision livestock farming
adjust input doses to match the needs of crops or animals.
Inputs to a heterogeneous population are regulated according
to the needs of each individual (within a plot, group of animals,
etc.) while practices are adapted to suit local environmental
conditions (soil condition and depth, wind, etc.).
Precision agriculture and precision livestock farming use
bundle of new information and communication technologies
(ICT) in a sensor-actuatorcontrol system loop comprising:
observation, from sensors, satellite data or manual input;
diagnosis (of the status of crops or animals), using
modelling;
recommendation, using knowledge-based models;
action, using automated input systems.
1.3 Developing specialised farm machinery and new
practices
Specialized agricultural equipment plays a particularly
important role in increasing the functional diversication of
1
The Agro-ecology and researchcolloquium was held in October
2013 and was organised by INRA with the support of the Ministry of
Agriculture and in partnership with the Agreenium and Allenvi
research alliances.
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V.E. Bellon Maurel and C. Huyghe: OCL
agricultural systems and helping to recycle elements in a
closed-loop system.
1.3.1 Increasing the functional diversity of agrosystems
To increase the functional diversity of agrosystems, new
cultural ways are created by introducing additional varieties,
mixtures of species and / or additional species as commercial
or intermediate crops. In addition, practices such as under-
cover seeding, in-mulch seeding or interplanting, agroforestry
and in-eld grass strips (e.g., between vines, fruit trees or grain
crops) can contribute to diversication. Extended rotations and
use of intermediate crops call for the adaptation of seeding
techniques to suit cover-plant seeds and to manage soil
incorporation of crop residues. Landscape design must also be
modied and particular attention must be paid to the
management of eld margins and agroecological infra-
structures such as hedges, buffer strips or wetland habitats.
All these new practices require special farm equipment.
1.3.2 Using biogeochemical substances in a closed-loop
system
Agroecology closes the loop of biogeochemical ows both
by facilitating natural processes and by intensifying recycling
on the farm.
To enable natural biogeochemical recycling, soil protec-
tion is essential. Particular attention must be paid to the
conditions under which tillage, sowing and soil maintenance
operations are carried out to reduce the risk of soil compaction
(because of heavy machinery or inappropriate pneumatic
equipment). It is necessary to limit the intensity of tillage, to till
only where and when necessary, and to aim for continuous soil
cover for improving water inltration and storage into soil.
These different practices require soil cultivation tools that
preserve the presence of a mulch on the surface or use
minimum tillage (strip-till) as well as seeders adapted to direct
seeding, and seeding into dead or living mulch (i.e. an existing
crop).
To intensify the recycling of organic matter, efuent and
organic waste is used as a soil conditioner following
composting or anaerobic digestion. Good manure management
includes covering of manure pits, separation of liquid and
solid phases and subsequent application of the manure by
localized spreading or by incorporation in order to limit
gaseous emissions.
In addition to specialised farm machinery, such recycling
requires integrated management of sources of biomaterials
at a local level and a shared use of processing equipment
(anaerobic digesters) in order to minimise environmental and
economic impact of the transport of materials.
2 How does farm machinery support
agroecology?
The contribution made by farm machinery to agroecology
can be divided into four main categories:
digital technologies for data acquisition and processing.
Knowledge of the needs of crops or animals is essential and
this must be modelled to enable appropriate diagnosis and
recommendations to be made;
precision technologies make it possible to tailor interven-
tions to each individual (or group of similar individuals);
autonomous technologies allow agile interventions with
minimum impact;
specic technologies support new cultivation practices.
2.1 Data acquisition and data processing
technologies
2.1.1 Data entry and transmission
These technologies make use of sensors which can be
installed in different locations: xed (on the ground or onto
plants to be measured) singly or in a network, carried by
operators (portable sensors), attached to or implanted in the
animals, or embedded in farm machinery (tractors and tools)
or aerial vehicles (drones, planes, satellites). The spatial and
temporal resolution of the measurement largely depends on
which of these modes of implementation is used. Sensors can:
record the state or the behaviour of an organism (plant,
animal), either in real time or as historical or deferred
data;
characterize properties of local environment, including
physical, chemical and biological soil properties, hetero-
geneity within plots, spatial environment (eld margins,
neighboring plots, agroecological infrastructures), tempo-
ral environment (previous crops, intercrops, residues, etc.),
herd environment, either outdoors or in livestock buildings
(temperature, air ow, gas concentrations, etc.).
The objective of such recording and analysis is to increase
knowledge of the environment in order to improve under-
standing of the behavior of crops or animals and, ultimately,
to optimize their interaction with the environment.
The list of sensor-types is very broad: soil moisture probes;
pH sensors; plant deformation sensors to detect plant water
stress; temperature sensors and accelerometers to provide data
on animal health; and various optical sensors (UV-visible
cameras, hyper-spectral cameras, infrared sensors, near-
infrared spectrometers, lidar, etc.). Weather data are also
essential to prediction models and improved weather forecasts
would signicantly increase the added value, interest and
eventual adoption of precision agriculture.
Ultimately, connected objectswill become a standard
part of agriculture. Connected weather stations, linked to
agricultural machinery and sensor networks on the farm, are
arst example of connected objects.
Smartphones can implement dedicated applications that
capture operational data, provide advice to the farmer,
recognize weeds, carry out specic measurements (of colour,
shape, density, etc.) and access reference databases. When
no sensor is available to measure a given variable (such as
disease or attacks by pests), the relevant information can be
entered manually on a terminal that transmits the data in a
formatted and usable form. Smartphones are increasingly used
for this purpose, bringing together various functions (such as
measurement, geolocalisation, connection and display) useful
for professional applications. Because they are easy to use,
they make it possible to collect networked observations that
can be shared across a particular agricultural area.
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V.E. Bellon Maurel and C. Huyghe: OCL
Data is then transferred via high-speed systems provided
by mobile or, if collected at low frequency, by low-throughput
operators (SiFox, LoRa, etc.). For storage and exchange,
data clouds, although not without security issues, are often
portrayed as revolutionary. Database interoperability is a
further concern since it is dependent on the normalisation
and standardisation of exchange protocols and data reposito-
ries.
2.1.2 Reaping the benets of data processing: smart data
and big data
Data generated by sensors or operators are converted
into indicators, advice, recommendations and automated
instructions using either conventional statistical processing
methods or methods derived from articial intelligence,
also called deep learning, thereby becoming smart
data.
As in other economic sectors, increasing amounts of data
are generated in agriculture, resulting in what has become
known as agricultural big data. Big data is characterized by
the three Vs: Volume, Variety and Velocity. Variety is the
most signicant property of agricultural data since the data are
very diverse, non-standardised and derived from a range of
sources involving different actors. Volume of information can
also be signicant, in the case of phenotyping data or satellite
images for example, and this requires new methods of data
mining. Based on these vast quantities of data, new knowledge
models can be created. The success of such innovative
approaches to knowledge creation depends on access to these
heterogeneous data and particular attention must be paid to the
question of data ownership and governance. There are a
number of initiatives in France and elsewhere that facilitate
access to data; for example, the Agrimetrics Data Hub in the
United Kingdom, API-AGRO developed by ACTA, or the
AgGate data portal project (Bournigal, 2016) and #DigitAg,
the digital agriculture convergence Lab (www.hdigitag.fr).
2.2 Precision technologies
With the benet of precision technologies, human
intervention can be limited to ensuring that the needs of
plants or animals are met, making it possible to reduce
inputs.
2.2.1 Spraying
New types of sprayer offer ways to move closer to the
goals of agroecology: dosages may be adjusted according to
leaf area or volume (measured by radar, optical sensors or
Lidar) and spray could selectively target areas affected by
disease. These sprayers can be designed to restrict drift and
thus maximize input efciency. In the case of vines, the joint
technological unit EcotechViti
2
deserves mention for its work
on spray quality assessment (evaluating foliar application
performance and losses in the ground or air).
2.2.2 Spreading livestock manure
Organic waste products are a source of fertilizers and their
use in agricultural production is essential to closing geochemical
cycles, a core objective for agroecology. Improving quality of
organic fertilizer spreading is a major challenge, as such
fertilizers are characterized by the great diversity of their shape
(liquid to solid) and chemical composition. French professio-
nals, working to a European standard, are developing an Eco-
spreaderlabel that is managed by Axema, the French
Agricultural Equipment Manufacturers Union.
2.2.3 Precision irrigation
Well-managed irrigation controls water use and energy
consumption, thereby improving prots. Precision irrigation is
based on a new generationof models capable of estimating water
needs of plants. Recommendations are made based on data
collected by sensors (such as neutron probes, dielectric and
capacitive probes and remote sensing and monitoring devices)
which then feed a diagnosis and hydraulic assessment. Precision
irrigation is carried out using pivot or drip systems.
2.2.4 Self-guiding and assisted guidance equipment
Precision technologies are classically used in conjunction
with geolocalisation, which provides a reference for observa-
tions and recommendations. Real time kinematics (RTK) GPS
guidance is promising as it has very high precision levels,
down to about 30 mm. RTK antennas are generally jointly-
owned infrastructures as they are expensive, but they can cover
a radius of 10 km.
2.3 Autonomous technologies
Autonomous technologies are less heavy and cumbersome
and consequently have less impact than conventional technolo-
gies, earning them a place in the agroecological toolkit.
2.3.1 Robots
With robots, repetitive or dangerous tasks are executed
autonomously. Machines adapt their actions to variations in
local conditions. There are currently three main areas of use for
commercial robots:
after a slow start, robotic milking machines are rapidly
developing in France: 45% of dairy production facilities in
Brittany now use robotic milking machines. These reduce
the stress put upon farmers and enable them to gather
information on animal health and on the milk collected
through integral ow and quality sensors.
automatic feeding systems are programmed to meet
animalsneeds. Mobile animal feeding robots prepare
and distribute fresh fodder (silage, hay) throughout the day,
increasing the animalsappetites and hence productivity.
outdoor weeding machines are in the development phase; they
look for, identify and then destroy weeds by means of localised
application of herbicides or physical, mechanical or thermal
treatment. At the time of writing, Naïo Technologies
3
has
2
UMT EcotechViti is a mixed technological unit working to reduce
the reliance of winegrowers on pesticides.
3
Naïo Technologies supplies robots for winegrowers.http://www.
naio-technologies.com.
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V.E. Bellon Maurel and C. Huyghe: OCL
distributed several tens of mobile devices for mechanical
weeding, mainly in vegetable production systems and
vineyards.
2.3.2 Assisted guidance
The availability of assisted guidance in agricultural
machinery has led to both developing new technologies and
revisiting old ones. Guidance is achieved by using optical or
laser-type proximity sensors. Laser-guided hoeing machines,
equipped with a wide variety of teeth to suit the crop to be
weeded, are designed to pass very close to the seedlings
without damaging them. This technology is becoming
increasingly precise e.g., accurate to 10 mm and has
the capacity to be rolled out in the future for use with closely-
spaced crops such as cereals. Laser guidance also makes it
possible to optimize the alignment of larger machines such as
vine sprayers equipped with spray recovery panels.
In future, there may be increased interest in automatically-
guided controlled trafc farming(CTF) machines in the
wake of expanding development of agroforestry. CTF
machines have a very precise trajectory, avoiding the soil
compaction that results from the repeated passages of
machinery. CTF is possible only if the widths of all tools
used throughout the crop cycle are compatible.
2.4 Specic technologies supporting new cultivation
practices
In order to encourage biotic interactions in crops, common
practices, such as multiple crop associations, can be updated
and adopted across larger areas thanks to developments in farm
machinery. Examples are given below.
2.4.1 New machines and equipment for continuous soil
cover
Drawbacks of tilling are born from the use of heavy and
powerful equipments which are both expensive and leading to
destruction of soil structure.
Simplied cultivation techniques that protect soils can
offer an alternative. These preserve mulches and groundcovers
that outcompete weeds, limit evaporation and reduce the risk
of erosion between crops. In order to benet from this mulch, it
is necessary to sow within the mulch, ensuring that seeds are in
contact with the soil for rapid growth. Strip tilling reduces
tilling to a narrow strip in which seeds are sown. For row crops,
geolocalisation has made it possible to sow in staggered rows.
Staggered-row sowing speeds up cover development and
favours crop development over that of weeds. The particular
challenge these methods present for the development of farm
machinery is that they require the effective and precise
positioning of seeds to guarantee implantation and growth.
Soil structure can also be preserved by reducing tyre
pressures, especially in the case of large tyres: these can be
adjusted using automated inating systems that alter the
pressure in response to the bearing capacity of different soils.
This has the advantage of both limiting soil compaction and
enhancing ground adhesion, enabling the farmer to work in a
wide range of weather conditions.
2.4.2 Mechanical weed management
Weed management is a major issue in agriculture. First,
weeds are in competition with crops, thereby reducing
productivity; second, weeds that are not eradicated leave
seeds in the soil, leading to future problems.
One mechanical method of managing weeds is weed
harrowing. This combines weeding in rows and harrowing
between rows. It is also possible to combine targeted sowing
and harrowing based on precise geolocalisation.
A second option is to manage weed life-cycles. As weed
inorescences are often located above the crops, they can be cut
early with a header. This technique, already used in organic
farming, helps to reduce the weed seed bank and can be adapted
to agroecology by developing new equipments for multiple
crops. Australian engineers have gone a step further by
developing a combine that incorporates a weed seed recovery
system (Harvest Weed Seed Control) (Walsh and Powles, 2014).
2.4.3 Mixed cropping and agroforestry
Mixing different crops or mixing crops with tree cover
improves management of biodiversity, but specically
designed equipment is needed for these new practices and
systems. For mixed crops, such as wheat /pea mixtures, the
different species are harvested simultaneously and must
therefore be separated by mechanical or optical sorters.
For agroforestry, machinery is needed to set and maintain
the tree cover without damaging crops. For instance, hedges
can be managed using new equipment that also collects the
trimmings which, along with slash from clear felling, can be
turned into pellets or chippings.
2.4.4 Efcient livestock and closed-loop systems
A wide range of equipment to help the different stages of
fodder production mowing, drying and conditioning
(making and baling silage and/or hay, etc.) is still under
development. New equipment is being developed to reduce
drying duration and losses, to increase the nutritional value of
fodder and also to allow better working conditions. In-bale air
injection as well as barn dryingeither in bulk, in boxes, or
with round or square bales are fast-developing practices.
Farmers also seek to increase economic and environmental
efciency of barns through temperature monitoring and gas
scrubbing, which captures ammonia before air extraction. This
process requires excellent management of data collected by
sensors along with detailed knowledge of the way the barn is used.
Last, farms can be managed as closed-loop systems,
provided that livestock is appropriately linked to crop
production. In that case, the right machinery is essential to
the efcient management of farm efuents, e.g., through
methane production and/or manure spreading.
3 How to encourage the use of farm
machinery as part of the agroecology
transition?
It is crucial to identify barriers and drivers for the
innovation and adoption of high-tech farm machinery, given its
role as a lever for agroecology transition.
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V.E. Bellon Maurel and C. Huyghe: OCL
3.1 Barriers
Arst obstacle lies in the size of farm machinery
companies: most are PMEs with limited research capacity.
Another major obstacle is to be found in the lack of interaction
between farm machinery designers, on the one hand, and
designers of new cultivation and breeding systems, on the
other: a joint working between them is urgently needed.
But the main impediment may lie in the lack of demand
from farmers. Because specialised farm machinery is a niche
market, it is expensive, bringing high investment costs.
Solutions include sharing equipment between farmers, out-
sourcing farm worksservices, extending the useful life of
machinery, putting in place tax incentives or a regulatory
framework to support the acquisition of specialised farm
machinery. A move towards mass production, with its
economies of scale, is another way to be encouraged using
public incentives to cut costs and target wider markets.
Last, users may be deterred from using new technologies
by their complexity. Here, there is a compelling need for
further work on ergonomics and for training to be organised.
Regarding digital development in farm machinery,
software packages are generally available in this and other
sectors. Signicant research and development effort will
however be needed to adapt such technologies to the particular
requirements of farm machinery that will support the transition
to agroecology.
3.2 Incentives to use new agricultural equipment
Three main levers can be identied that would encourage
adoption of new agricultural equipment by farmers.
The rst of these is to boost user participation. The
learning by doingapproach invites farmers to use equipment
and give feedback in a collaborative design venture (the
design thinking approach). Farmer networks have to be
created to encourage knowledge transfer. Networking is made
possible, for instance, by the installation of shared equipment
(such as RTK transmission towers), by consultation on
agricultural equipment (e.g., as seen for barn management)
or by developing collective actions to encourage the adoption
of new equipment on a larger scale. In this, farm machinery
cooperatives and agricultural contractors have a major role
to play.
Financial leverage is also possible. For instance, to
encourage eco-friendly practices, the Future of Agriculture
and Forestsbill was passed in France in September 2014
which included an experimental period of certicates
achieving savings in the use of phytosanitary products. This
design is relevant to equipments. Those awarded such pesticide
saving certicates then qualify for grants. Similar incentives
targeting other types of inputs, such as nitrogen, could be
introduced. Here, it is essential to establish the level of benets
derived from such incentives by the acquisition, whether
individual or collective, of farm machinery that optimises input
applied doses.
In addition to tax incentives, it would certainly be
justiable to direct targeted public nancial subsidies towards
farm machinery intended for agroecology. This would both
reduce environmental impacts and support a new emerging
industry.
Last, signicant leverage can be achieved through training.
Farmers, farm machinery retailers and agricultural advisors
must all be trained to use new technologies and machines.
Specic training sessions on ICT, new technologies and farm
machinery must be fully embedded in the curriculum of
schools and colleges that specialise in agriculture. Students in
engineering (electronics, computer sciences, mechanics, etc.)
should be more clearly informed about the openings and
potential for career development offered by farm machinery
companies, which are short of trained workers.
4 Conclusion: down with clichés!
We can conclude with three critical assertions. First, the
adoption of new technology is a critical point, to be taken into
account as soon as possible. Second, new technologies open up
opportunities for collective working and solidarity. And, last, a
misconception about the relationship between agroecology and
machinery needs to be dispelled.
4.1 Adoption of agricultural equipment: a critical point
Farmersadoption of these new technologies, particularly
digital technologies, is crucial. In order to analyse the conditions
that encourage farmers to adopt these technologies we must
focus on the triggers for their decisions. Numerous factors
inuence decision-making: input costs; the effects of product
prices on incomes; farmersattitudes towards risk management;
their education and training; how easy it is to access information,
etc. When choosing agricultural equipment for agro-ecological
practices, the main factors to be considered are:
the annual cost of theequipment. This depends on parameters
such as the cost of investment, tax regulations, tax
exemptions, depreciation, funding possibilities and existing
debt, as well as possibilities for equipment sharing;
the level of labour productivity (measuring the ratio
between production volume and time needed to achieve it)
as well as quality of work (linked to working conditions);
the farmers ability to use the machines and equipment in
different conditions (humidity,wi nd, soil bearing capacity, etc.);
the alleviation of arduous working conditions;
the access to decision-making and information-manage-
ment systems to reduce investment risk;
the farm nancial situation;
the opportunities for collective acquisition of equipment
to reduce capital outlay and encourage adoption of new
techniques and practices.
Producers of new agricultural equipment will have to
address all these issues in order to increase market share. Last,
but not least, the preparedness of farmers to adopt new
agricultural equipment depends on the will and desire to
embrace modernity and act to promote high-tech agriculture.
4.2 Agricultural equipment and digital technologies:
towards a greater solidarity
There is no way of knowing the full potential of digital
technologies in agriculture, as this future is for a large extent
still to be built. Currently, they are commonly used to give
Page 6 of 7
V.E. Bellon Maurel and C. Huyghe: OCL
access to knowledge and information, for example, to provide
instant solutions to practical problems. But, digital technolo-
gies may provide the opportunity for new ties within the
farming community and along the value chains. When used on
a shared basis, farm machinery can become a mediation tool
that benets collective skill development. What is more, data
collection and sharing provide farmers with the chance to
develop their networking: sharing data is easy and cheap and it
leads to better management on the farm (for example, by
sharing information on diseases, weather, and so on) and
within a community (by sharing information on practices).
Sharing data makes it possible to further develop good
practices as collective knowledge increases. Metcalfeslaw
highlights that the more users there are in a network the more value
this network will have. In this knowledge-sharing model,
networks allow relationships between learners and teachers to
be modied. Both direct and indirect network externalities must be
taken into account. Creative applications to increase knowledge
and information sharing have yet to be developed.
4.3 Eventually, farm machinery and agroecology are
inextricably linked
This article has repeatedly demonstrated that farm
machinery and digital technologies must be seen as key
elements of agroecology transition. This also dispels the myth
that agroecology and digital technologies are incompatible
because the former would be based on naturalprocesses
only, while the latter would be suited only to intensive farming.
This perception is entirely without foundation, since the more
we seek to adapt farming to its environment, the more we need
data, observations and diagnosis to better understand crop
needs. The future will lie in the shared construction of
agroecological practices and systems, and of the associated
farm machinery/digital technologies. It is for us to be creative
in this eld!
Acknowledgement. The authors acknowledge the contribution
of colleagues from INRA (from H. Guyomard, J.L. Peyraud,
J.F Soussana, C. Gascuel, G. Richard, M. Voltz, M. Cerf,
X. Reboud, T. Caquet), Irstea ( R. Lenain, J.P. Chanet,
M. Berducat, O. Naud) & Montpellier Supagro (B. Tisseyre).
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Walsh MJ, Powles SB. 2014. High seed retention at maturity of annual
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Cite this article as: Bellon Maurel V, Huyghe C. 2017. Putting agricultural equipment and digital technologies at the cutting edge of
agroecology. OCL, DOI: 10.1051/ocl/2017028
Topical Issue
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V.E. Bellon Maurel and C. Huyghe: OCL
... Digitalisation increases the risk of divisions in the agri-food sector due to differences in the speed of technological adoption, access to the benefits of digitalisation and potentially damaging effects of some technologies. Public policy interventions are necessary to improve access to new technologies (Bellon-Maurel & Huyghe, 2017;Carmela Annosi et al., 2020). For example, access to technologies that have the potential to reduce the environmental impact of the agri-food sector (Von Braun et al., 2017) and tackle the climate crisis (Radulescuu et al., 2019). ...
... It is necessary to support the training and education about new technologies (Yoon et al., 2020). This could be done by integrating the relevant topics into the curriculum of vocational schools and universities (Bellon-Maurel & Huyghe, 2017). Dedicated policies are needed to facilitate the improvement of the skills of farmers that are otherwise at risk of being left behind (Barrett & Rose, 2020), especially regarding data processing and interpretation skills . ...
... To fulfil these aims, different characteristics of actors need to be accommodated (Bronson, 2018;Giua et al., 2020;Li et al., 2019;Rotz et al., 2019;Yoon et al., 2020) and public policies are expected to provide a platform for dialogue (Eastwood et al., 2017;Fleming et al., 2018;Ingram & Maye, 2020;Fielke et al., 2019). The identified justifications for policy interventions, particularly the responsibility to avoid the risk of imbalanced progress by granting fair access to new technologies (Bellon-Maurel & Huyghe, 2017;Carmela Annosi et al., 2020), preventing potentially negative effects of the new technologies (Barrett & Rose, 2020), avoiding digital divides (Barrett & Rose, 2020;Klerkx et al., 2019;Shepherd et al., 2020) and regulating the competition between technology providers (Bronson, 2019) further underline the approach that public policies are expected to take towards power imbalances. Thus, considering the future scenarios of digitalisation as developed by Ehlers et al. (2022), where the prominent differences between scenarios lie in the position of power (which could dip or be dipped in the favour of the government, food companies or technology companies), this research argues that it is up to public policies to avoid the realisation of any of these scenarios and focus on finding a middle ground. ...
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... The revolution of sustainable agriculture is the application of precision technologies in conjunction with geolocalization, which provide the farmers with useful information for understanding crop needs and adapting their practices for the benefit of environmental conservation (Maurel and Huyghe, 2017). Maurel and Huyghe (2017) have demonstrated that farm machinery and digital technologies are compatible with agroecology, contrary to the myth of agroecology being based on natural processes only, and therefore, not suitable for digital technologies. ...
... In organic farming, the slurry application is fundamental and GNSS technology can permit applying the right dose of manure according to particular location conditions (Jacobsen et al., 2005). By means of precision technologies, like GNSS, human intervention can be limited to ensure that plants' or animals' needs are met, making it possible to reduce chemical inputs (Maurel and Huyghe, 2017). Many socio-economic and environmental advantages will be reached with diffusion of the GNSS technology application in organic farming and agroecology. ...
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Seed production of annual weeds persisting through cropping phases replenishes/establishes viable seed banks from which these weeds will continue to interfere with crop production. Harvest weed seed control (HWSC) systems are now viewed as an effective means of interrupting this process by targeting mature weed seed, preventing seed bank inputs. However, the efficacy of these systems is directly related to the proportion of total seed production that the targeted weed species retains (seed retention) at crop maturity. This study determined the seed retention of the four dominant annual weeds of Australian cropping systems - annual ryegrass, wild radish, brome grass, and wild oat. Beginning at the first opportunity for wheat harvest and on a weekly basis for 28 d afterwards the proportion of total seed production retained above a 15 cm harvest cutting height was determined for these weed species present in wheat crops at nine locations across the Western Australian (WA) wheat-belt. Very high proportions of total seed production were retained at wheat crop maturity for annual ryegrass (85 %), wild radish (99 %), brome grass (77 %), and wild oat (84 %). Importantly, seed retention remained high for annual ryegrass and wild radish throughout the 28 d harvest period. At the end of this period, 63 and 79 % of total seed production for annual ryegrass and wild radish respectively, was retained above harvest cutting height. However, seed retention for brome grass (41 %) and wild oat (39%) was substantially lower after 28 d. High seed retention at crop maturity, as identified here, clearly indicates the potential for HWSC systems to reduce seed bank replenishment and diminish subsequent crop interference by the four most problematic species of Australian crops.
AgGate -Portail de données pour l'innovation en agriculture. Ministère de l'agriculture, de l'agroalimentaire et de la forêt. 138 pages. Date de remise
  • J M Bournigal
Bournigal JM. 2016. AgGate -Portail de données pour l'innovation en agriculture. Ministère de l'agriculture, de l'agroalimentaire et de la forêt. 138 pages. Date de remise : January 2017. Disponible sur : http://www.ladocumentationfrancaise.fr/rapports-publics/ 174000039/index.shtml (Last consult: 2017/06/07).