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Technological innovations for sustainable agriculture and the environment

In summary

In a word

  • 121 permanent staff including 110 researchers, engineers and technicians
  • 30 top-rankng publications per year on average
  • 4 software programmes and 36 patents
  • 4 incubated companies: Ondalys, Oléobois, Virtualiz 4D and Effidence
  • 3 research and technology platforms: for the environmental qualification of the application and spray technologies (ReducPol,Montpellier), for spreading (PEE, Montoldre), for research trials on energy performance and farming equipment safety (PSA2, Antony)

Four lines of scientific research

  • Environmental and social evaluation
  • Fluids, flows and processes
  • Physics for measurement and associated processes
  • Automation, conception, decision-making assistance

Editorial : Agriculture and environment - Priority for innovation

Jean-Michel Roger, Deputy science director, INSPIRE

Robots in convoy in the fields steered by a laptop computer, communicating technologies capable of interacting on sprays on the vines, drones equipped with cameras to monitor crop fertilization, optical sensors that can evaluate the rate of carbon trapped in the soil, etc. These futuristic images no longer belong to the world of science fiction: they illustrate some of the innovative technologies developed by Irstea researchers working on the research topic INSPIRE (Technological innovation for sustainable agriculture and the environment).
An important aspect of this research is related to digitized farming which will provide farmers with information about the status of their crops and their production systems in real time. Linked to systems providing decisionmaking assistance, these new tools will be useful, for example, in ensuring the correct dosages of products (pesticides, fertilizers) in the right place and at the right time. This work is based on new trial platforms in Europe; the Cemib testbed, for example, which has won a number of awards in France, has attracted German, Dutch and Danish producers. It enables a fertilizer-spreading solution to be modelled or validated within a few minutes. In Montpellier, a joint technology unit EcoTech-Viti was created in 2013 using a testbed that simulates vines to test the main types of sprays and optimize their use. IFV, Irstea and Montpellier SupAgro will work together on it for a period of 5 years in the framework of the Ecophyto2 plan. Various decision-making assistance tools also help to ensure that inputs are used at the right time.

Another aspect of the work concerns the health of the operator handling toxic molecules and also his safety using farming equipment, with innovations that tackle dangerous situations such as coupling machinery or overturning.
Other research is being conducted on processing organic waste of various kinds (livestock manure, sewage sludge, household waste). In the case of sludge, for example, the research focuses on defining its characteristics so that it can be spread in fields or used for energy production by methanization. New optical sensors which enable the swift sorting of household waste have also been created and are now being transferred to manufacturers in the sector.
A final line of scientific activity is the evaluation of the technologies and agricultural and environmental sectors in an effort to limit the impacts on the environments using Life cycle analysis (LCA) tools. These studies are being conducted under the aegis of the very recently established Industrial research chair Elsa-Pact, the only one of its kind in Europe.

Selected research projects

ELSA-PACT industrial research chair: growing importance of LCA


When vines meet cutting-edge technology


Business creation

Welcome to the fourth dimension 

Sometimes it is just one step from the laboratory to the start-up! A virtual prototyping tool developed in the context of theses co-supervised by Irstea has resulted in the creation of the company 4D-Virtualiz.
Agriculture, cars, rail travel, the military sector… Robotics is expanding into many sectors. This is a promising market which 4D-Virtualiz, a young start-up created in 2014 and supported by Irstea, is seeking to enter. The basis of this creation is a digital simulation tool to test algorithms, developed in the context of two theses co-supervised
by Irstea and the Institut Pascal on the independent movement of farming vehicles.
Dubbed "Cobaye", this tool goes further than 3D simulation because it can model all the elements of the environment, including the physical data: vehicle weight, wheel grip, obstacles, satellite information, presence of pedestrians, climate conditions, etc. A kind of "fourth dimension"! After an initial phase of development, Cobaye is now commercially available and is creating interest among manufacturers. A number of producers of farming equipment have already adopted it. It is also being offered to a wider audience of all companies working on autonomous robotic systems and seeking to reduce their research and development costs. The next stages will be the recruitment of two people and the launch of a new product offer.

Learn more about 4D-Virtualiz

Technological platform

Agro-ecology on a platform
To improve economic, environmental and social performances of the farming sector, Irstea is using unique research and experimentation resources.
The ReducPol platform situated in Montpellier is dedicated to the evaluation and optimization of the equipment and practices of pesticide spraying. Its very comprehensive facilities enable it to study both the quality of application of the equipment (dimension and speed of the drops, effect of the adjuvants on spraying, deposits on the vegetation, etc.) and the environmental impact of spraying (drift, emissions into the air, soil deposits). 

The role of platform PSA2, in Antony, is to evaluate the energy performances of the self-propelled farming vehicles (power, fuel consumption) and the safety of their operators. Its testbeds measure in particular the stability of the vehicles and protection provided by the cab in the event of overturning, exposure to noise, vibrations, toxic atmospheres, etc. Acting mainly in support of public policies, it also makes its resources available to manufacturers in the context of partnership research projects. 

Lastly, in Montoldre, the PEE platform teams are helping to optimize spreading equipment and products. Two testbeds, specifically designed by Irstea for organic and mineral fertilizers, are measuring the characteristics of spreading (homogeneity, distribution in the soil, consistency of doses, etc.). Certain impacts, such as soil compaction, or the energy efficiency of tyres, are also evaluated.
Although their areas of intervention differ, these technology research platforms share the same goals: to evaluate the agro-environmental performances of the equipment and practices, to support manufacturers in designing equipment that is more efficient, safer and more respectful of the environment, and to provide their expertise in support of the drafting of standards and regulations.