The state is allocating 65 million euros to put digital technologies at the service of the agroecological transition.

The Priority Research Program and Equipment (PREP) “Agroecology and Digital” is born. This PEPR, presented in more detail on Friday, January 6, 2023, is led by Inrae and Inriya. These institutions were selected following the publication of the white paper “Agriculture and Digital: Opportunities, Risks and Approaches for Responsible Digital Agriculture”, which was presented at the International Agricultural Exhibition 2022.

65 million euros in 8 years

“This PEPR has been allocated 65 million euros over 8 years to support, develop and consolidate research in agroecology and digital technologies,” explains Philippe Maugin, president of Inrae, simply. Funding was allocated under the France 2030 program. The goal of the program is to position itself as a key element of the entire strategy of research and innovation in the field of sustainable agriculture. This more global strategy is comprised of other elements such as the Diverse Cultivation and Protection Priority Program launched in 2022, which focuses on alternatives to phytosanitary products; or another PEPR, which will soon be launched into an expanded varietal selection.

Agroecology and Digital PEPR, while aiming to position itself as a key element, wanted to be very inclusive, aiming to include all organizations and research institutions in its design and implementation. The idea is to strengthen and develop research and innovation skills and to involve farmers in this transition. Thus, the humanities and social sciences component is at the center of his work.

13 projects already launched

A portion of this PEPR’s credits has already been allocated to projects jointly developed by Inrae and Inria as the goal is to get started quickly. These are “10 research projects and 3 infrastructure projects, which are funded by almost 26 million euros, or about 40% of the funds,” explains Philippe Maugin.

Among them is AgroDIV, which deals with the characterization of the genetic diversity of animal and plant species in France. About 20,000 plants and 8,000 animals will be studied. The goal is to reduce costs by selecting varieties and breeds that are adapted to the constraints, by linking varieties at the site level, or by creating species associations. And all this while preserving biodiversity.

In the meantime, the Ninsar project aims to develop simple mobile robots that are low cost and capable of impacting the environment. They will also work on coordinating these robots and see if they can combine to perform certain tasks and adapt. The Pl@ntAgroEco project aims to improve the PlantNet plant identification application, developed in particular by the Inria Laboratories. Researchers would like to go further in the aspect of agroecology by developing, for example, a solution for detecting plant diseases.

Upcoming Calls for Projects

The rest of the amount allocated by PEPR should benefit the national community: two calls for projects worth 32 million euros will be opened. The first should be launched by the end of the year for a start in 2024. The second one will be opened in about two years so that the project leaders can rely on the results of the first studies. In parallel, other annual call for projects will be used, in particular to fund doctoral and postdoctoral contracts.

“PEPR will be complemented by a major robotics challenge that is part of the same acceleration strategy,” Philippe Maugin adds. It is backed by €20 million funding in addition to PEPR funding and will be managed jointly with the RobAgri association. The aim is to go further in the application of intelligent robotic solutions for the agroecological transition.

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