The Euralis cooperative group is revolutionising its approach and actively reinventing the farming of the future, with a focus on high-performance, sustainable, integrated, and responsible agriculture. This will result in agriculture that uses fewer input products but in a better way and that intends to meet societal expectations. To achieve its goals, Euralis is focusing on three key levers: optimising agricultural practices, finding alternative solutions, and designing new systems. This revolution requires courage, creativity, and innovation, particularly regarding technology. It is implemented in all regions where the cooperative operates, in partnership with members, as well as start-ups who share this vision. Explanations:
At its General Assembly last February, Euralis President Christian Pèes took a strong stance and announced the group’s decision to choose consulting over sales. Several months after its implementation, the revolution is still going strong, with one ultimate goal: to reduce and improve the use of input products. Of course, Euralis is committed to supporting farmers during this transition by ensuring that their farms remain profitable, and this is where the challenge lies. This support involves developing and implementing solutions, including transmitting, promoting, and finding new alternatives and encouraging a collective dynamic. Christophe Congues, Euralis Deputy President, explains: “As part of our long-term strategy, we have decided to promote practices that favour biodiversity, limit the use of chemical and non-renewable input products, and optimise the use of natural resources (water, soil, air, etc.). We also aim to promote practices that have a positive impact on society, while combining economic profitability and social progress. As a cooperative, it is up to us to help farmers adopt these and other practices via personalised consulting. That is our main mission.”
Focus on innovation
“We strongly believe that the transition towards sustainable agriculture is only possible by working with key regional players, in particular, innovative start-ups”, concludes Julien Saludas, Head of R&D and Innovation at the Agricultural Division. “In addition, we have forged partnerships with several of them, including some on an exclusive basis, in order to trial new solutions. Some of these are already showing promising results, which further encourages us to pursue our initiative.” Several solutions have thus emerged.
Different types of solutions in the transition towards the farming of the future
Optimising agricultural practices: increasing performance by improving our use of input products
Using treatments at the right time, and as efficiently as possible, is a real challenge for the farming of the future. To tackle this challenge, Euralis is trialling a decision-making tool developed by Weather Measures and based on precision meteorology. “We have forged a trusted partnership with this start-up“, explains Julien Saludas, Head of R&D and Innovation at the Agricultural Division. We were won over by the reliability of the data: “Thanks to precision meteorology – which provides highly reliable weather data and information regarding the condition of the soil, wind, humidity, etc. – we can help farmers optimise their production.”
Arnault Trac, the co-founder of Weather Measures, adds, “It was only natural for us to collaborate with Euralis on a long-term basis. Firstly, because the Group has chosen consulting, like all our other clients, and therefore considers that a cooperative’s added value lies in personalised consulting adapted both to farmers and in-the-field challenges – a belief that we all share. Furthermore, we appreciated Euralis’ intelligent approach to agronomic issues, which is one of the keys to ensuring the successful implementation of the tools we have developed. Finally, the fact that our sectors and regions fall under the cooperative was a real advantage: we were the right service provider to design solutions for the Group that are effective in all areas while ensuring the same quality and reliability. We began our collaboration two years ago by gaining an insight into how the Euralis cooperative was structured from a climatological perspective. Before pushing through with supplying weather data upstream as usual, we first asked ourselves some essential questions: what is the playing field, how is it structured from a meteorological point of view, and how can it be reconciled with social and agricultural aspects, including regional crop distribution?”
“In early 2020, we launched the PREVSEM project in conjunction with Weather Measures, to help trigger seeding operations according to local weather data and the type of soil at Euralis sites”, Julien Saludas adds. “We use an artificial intelligence model to predict the best sowing dates depending on all these parameters and we’re planning a tool to measure climate risks for the entire growth cycle (cold stress, water stress, post-stress, etc.). We began by testing maize and sunflower crops in around twenty different situations for the 2020 growing season, followed by rapeseed.” Arnault Trac insists that: “Initial recommendations proposed by the tool have yielded fairly positive results, which we are, of course, delighted about.“ In some of our latest developments, Euralis has offered a brand-new weather service on its extranet since July 2020, which was also designed in collaboration with Weather Measures. It is more reliable and precise, not to mention more ergonomic and intuitive, and will be further developed in line with future technological advancements.
For more information… Weather Measures is an unusual market player, as Arnaud Trac highlights: “Our main competitors focus on collecting weather data by using physical sensors. At Weather Measures, we concentrate on the data itself, which completely transforms the way we envision how to construct and implement this data. In practice, before installing any sensors, we examine all weather data available in a given region. In reality, there is a whole host of variable sources; combining and calibrating them thus enables us to produce more reliable, consistent data in a given area. At Weather Measures, we don’t have cutting-edge agronomic expertise – we specialise in weather data. That way, we can systematically co-develop solutions with our clients, which we can provide in response to a given issue. Whatever the type of crop (groves, vineyards, field crops, etc.), farmers require the same data (rainfall, wind, humidity), but not on the same spatial and temporal scale, and not to the same level of precision. This co-development involves understanding our clients’ activities. The real value of this weather data lies in how it is used. Euralis is a telling example: with a lot of multi-crops, data requirements vary depending on the region and crops.”
Different types of solutions in the transition towards the farming of the future
Alternative solutions: replacing synthetic plant protection products with new solutions, with an emphasis on biocontrol products and plant defence stimulators
Sustainable agriculture may also include the use of naturally-derived input products to replace traditional chemical-based solutions.
Euralis is exploring this and other avenues via a partnership with Elicit Plant in the context of three maize, soya, and grapevine trials in Southwest France. These experiments focus on resistance to water stress and optimising mildew treatments on grapevines, both in conventional and organic agriculture. In the soya trial, for example, we used capacitive probes to monitor water consumption in plants. The aim was to evaluate the benefits of implementing this solution as precisely as possible.
Aymeric Molin, Head of R&D and partner of this start-up explains: “Our partnership with Euralis is one of the most rewarding we have ever established. We openly share our techniques, results, and analyses with the Euralis R&D team, thus fostering a very positive synergy. Euralis has demonstrated its willingness to become part of the farming of the future and favour scientifically robust solutions that provide real added value to farmers within the context of the ecological transition of practices. While we were not initially aware that Euralis had decided to stop selling plant protection products, we are confident that this decision has had a favourable impact on the R&D strategy and enabled the cooperative’s teams to demonstrate their robust skills in terms of finding alternative solutions to plant protection products. What we expect from this partnership is to establish a long-term working group to trial innovative technical solutions that limit the use of plant protection products and which can be easily and quickly adopted by farmers. We share the desire to stay connected to the reality and limitations of farms while offering concrete development solutions. We are aware that Euralis will objectively evaluate our innovations, which aim to reduce plant sensitivity to water stress and fungal diseases. This evaluation will help us define the interests of farmers for future marketing purposes.”
For more information… The Elicit Plant start-up has developed a breakthrough technological tool that makes it possible to modulate the permeability of plant cell walls. The product combines a wetting effect (which distributes droplets over the surface of the leaf when sprayed) with a penetrating effect, increasing the volume of water absorbed. Consequently, water and any inputs are absorbed and retained by the plant in much higher proportions than in the control plants. This product thus improves the effectiveness of the inputs, and, in turn, limits their dosage: this is its adjuvant effect. The application of this product also produces a major biostimulant effect.
Another original solution based on a breakthrough innovation: UV Boosting technology. Since 2017, Euralis has collaborated with a start-up of the same name to develop a plant protection solution without the use of input products. The two entities had shared interests: Euralis planned to develop an innovative technological tool that efficiently protects grapevines by reducing the volume of input products used against pests and diseases while the start-up team sought to validate seven years’ worth of laboratory research. Since 2018, UV technology has been tested on a 1 ha plot with different conditions that integrate dose modulations with 4 repetitions. The aim is to measure how the positioning of UV rays can reduce application rates of conventional plant protection products and limit the use of copper in organic agriculture. This provides the opportunity for Euralis to demonstrate its in-depth knowledge of winegrowing practices in the Bordeaux region.
In 2018, initial results demonstrated that combining UV treatments with half the dose of conventional plant protection products reduced the frequency of mildew on grape bunches by 75% as of 25/06. In terms of severity, we are witnessing the same trends. By stimulating the plant’s natural defences, UV flashes undeniably reduce the need to use fungicides in vineyards. Measurements taken in parallel in laboratories have confirmed this, demonstrating a 40% increase in salicylic acid and methyl salicylate production in vines. This production indicates that the plant develops systematic resistance and the potentiation of its defences: once stimulated, it develops improved resistance to pathogens such as mildew, powdery mildew, and perhaps other diseases such as Botrytis cinerea.
UV Boosting is an alternative to pesticides that is unique in France. It is aimed first and foremost at winegrowers in Euralis’ Agricultural Division, ensuring its regional distribution. Nicolas Poumeyrau, Vineyard Manager at Château Smith Haut Lafitte, has trialled this technology since the start of the growing season, on a 1 ha plot of Merlot vines in the Bordeaux region, with four different testing conditions: “The technical solution offered by UV Boosting appealed to us from the outset. We chose their services since it was the easiest option for conducting initial trials. We will consider purchasing the machine at a later date. When we started using their services, we initially encountered several glitches – particularly due to heavy rainfall – but there were no major issues. In hindsight, the results are promising in the context of a high risk of mildew attacks: the risk was significantly lower on grape bunches and leaves with UV applications every 10 days. While it is too early to draw definitive conclusions, these trials are very encouraging and it is worth combining copper and UV treatments to enhance our protection.”
For more information… The effectiveness of UV (UV C) combines several courses of action. These UV rays first and foremost induce potentiation. This means that the plant is able to respond much more effectively to contamination. This little-known mechanism is quick and easy to implement without impacting plant growth. UV rays are also elicitors: they induce very slight stress on the plant, which, in turn, accumulates precursors to antifungal compounds in its various organs. The combination of these two courses of action enables UV stimulation to be effective immediately, fighting against a wide range of diseases, whatever their mode of development.
Different types of solutions in the transition towards the farming of the future
Newly designed systems: complying with ecosystem regulations
Euralis is actively involved in the national SYPPRE project, led by technical institutes including Arvalis, ITB, and Terres Innovia. Its aim is to support farmers in transitioning towards new production systems that combine agronomy and ecology, as part of its sustainable development plan. “Since 2017, we have partnered up with SYPPRE in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region”, Julien Saludas highlights. “We are developing this project in the historic cradle of our cooperative, in the humus-rich soils of the Béarn area (Southwest France). Our objective is to work collectively to develop new crop systems adapted to our soil and climate conditions while ensuring their economic profitability. In the experimental platform in Sendets (Southwest France), we are developing eight maize-oriented production systems based on agroecological levers (reduced ploughing, permanent or semi-permanent cover crops, self-fertilisation, diversification, etc.). We are also focusing on evaluating crop sequences to produce methane via intermediate energy crops. A detailed analysis of the sustainability of systems is performed each year measuring carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen balance, TFI, time spent, etc., and, of course, economic indicators.”
Manuel Heredia, Arvalis Regional Engineer, adds: “Our partnership with Euralis is robust and goes back several years. Our projects include intermediate energy crops, as well as a methanisation platform project (MASCA) at our Arvalis site in Montardon (Southwest France). These intermediate energy crops represent an exciting marketing opportunity for farmers, providing possible additional income. We are exploring new high-potential markets. An initial project, OPTICIVE, was rolled out between 2016 and 2018 in Southwest France, which successfully trialled several intermediate crops. Likewise, we launched the RECITAL project several months ago, with the aim to create a French network of intermediate energy crop production listings to provide regionalised recommendations for farmers. We are working with our partners, including Euralis, to implement this project. We then supply the methodology to Arvalis to optimise these results from a robust statistical and scientific perspective. Initial results should be obtained within the next three years and we are proud to work with the Euralis cooperative in matters relating to energy transition.”
About us: Euralis’ agricultural activities
With a turnover of 463 million euros and 960 employees, these activities provide personalised support to farmers intending to strengthen their operations. They group together livestock and plant production in Southwest France, as well as grain collection and marketing, and also support winemaking activities. They cover Point Vert stores with “Table des Producteurs” departments, as well as a dedicated “Table des Producteurs” store near the city of Bordeaux.