For agriculture to become more sustainable, new practices and new cropping systems are needed that are capable of limiting inputs (fertilisers and crop protection products) and suited to the social, economic and environmental constraints faced. In the last decade or so, public policies have been put in place in order to help and encourage this change.
In 2017, the French Ministries of Agriculture and Ecological Transition, in partnership with the Ministry of Research and the French National Research Agency (ANR), launched the “ROSE challenge” request for proposals.
The aim was to bring about the development of innovative technological solutions that will contribute to achieving the objectives of the Ecophyto II plan : reducing the use of crop protection products, ensuring improved control of all types of risk, and reducing agriculture’s dependency on these products.
Challenges are specific ANR financing instruments, and aim to compare simultaneously the performance of several technological and scientific solutions to a specific subject and pre-defined objectives. They are a vital tool for organising and rallying industrial and academic stakeholders, making it possible to overcome scientific obstacles and speed up the development and transfer of technology.
The task facing the research teams selected is precise and operational. Their work, which started at the beginning of 2018, is focused on intra-row (spacing between the plants in the same row) weed control in field vegetable crops and widely spaced large-scale crops. The problem posed by the challenge relates to the development of technologies implementing robotic and/or sensor array solutions that make it possible to refrain from all use of crop protection products, or to limit the use thereof. Work is therefore required on the three components of weed control: observing and detecting crops and weeds, interpretation/decision-making, and weed control action.
The researchers have proposed original solutions for these different stages. Regarding detection and observation, the sensors will use information at different scales to distinguish crops from weeds and recognise the various adventitious plants. Interpretation will then be based on anticipating the development and competition dynamics between the weeds and crops, modelling the processes and designing strategies. Finally, action will consist of the support for or automated performance of targeted action using mechanical or electrical solutions.
The ROSE challenge’s aim of bringing about cooperation between research teams and industry is reflected in the creation of research consortiums setting up collaborative work between public partners, research institutes (CNRS, Irstea, INRA, INRIA, CIRAD), universities and higher education establishments (Limoges University, Bordeaux University, Montpellier Sup Agro and Bordeaux Sciences Agro), private companies in the farming sector (Fermes Larrère, AGRIAL) and the agricultural equipment sector (SITIA, CARBON BEE, Elatec, SABI AGRI), cooperatives, chambers of agriculture and technical institutes.
The successful projects have created interdisciplinary teams that bring together researchers in the fields of agronomy, plant physiology, weed control, imaging, data processing and robotics.
The challenge was launched in January 2018 for a period of four years. Four evaluation campaigns conducted by LNE and Irstea, with the participation of VetAgro Sup, will take place during the challenge.
The progress of the work will be measured throughout the projects at annual meetings in the field, during which the researchers will perform certain specific tasks, to ensure the repeatability and reproducibility of the experiments conducted. The comparisons will be organised according to a procedure devised in consultation with the researchers, by the French National Laboratory for Metrology and Testing (LNE) in conjunction with Irstea.
During the comparisons, which will take place on a plot at the AgroTechnoPôle on the Irstea site in Montoldre, in the Allier region of France, the effectiveness of the weed control strategy will be evaluated both as a function of the achievement of the weed control objective and according to criteria relating to financial cost, environmental impact and acceptability of the solution to farmers.
A collective consequence of the ROSE challenge will thus be to encourage the establishment of joint benchmarks so that scientific work in this field of research can be compared and all communities can benefit from it.