In Occitania, as everywhere else, farmers and producers are already observing the negative impacts of climate change. They too must now change their practices.
In the Tarn-et-Garonne, the flowering date of the apple tree has advanced by 7-8 days on average since the end of the 1980s, at a time when night frost is still frequent. In Gard and Hérault, the heat wave of June 2019 charred many vines. In Ariège, the grass is of lower quality, reducing cows’ milk production and increasing their vulnerability to parasites.
Throughout Occitania, farmers and producers are already observing the negative impacts of climate change. The agricultural world must adapt, otherwise yields could drop by 2% per decade, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which advocates the development of a “climate-smart agriculture”. But how to do it ?
Agroecology, low carbon farms, treated wastewater
Although often complex and costly to implement, the existing measures are numerous. Nathalie Gallon from the FranceAgriMer regional service explains, for example, that “Fruit and vegetable producers in Occitania are experimenting with new techniques for preserving peaches and apples, by soaking them in hot water. They are testing new bio-control models, particularly on cherries and chestnuts, to limit the impact of new pests. They are implementing new orchard cultivation techniques to fight, without phytosanitary, against plum pox”.
Faced with climatic vagaries, the development of agro-ecology, which aims to produce as much, but with less and better, is one of the preferred avenues. Crop diversification is another. It is the one chosen by the agricultural cooperative Fermes de Figeac in the Lot, which develops the cultivation of soybeans, which require less water than that of corn or alfalfa.
Others combine polyculture and animal husbandry, such as these Languedoc winegrowers now associated with goose breeders so that the animals come to eat the weeds and insect pests in their vines.
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To optimize water resources, some now favor drip irrigation, such as the Pink Lady apple orchards in Marsillargues, or even irrigation with treated wastewater, such as at the Pech Rouge wine estate in Gruissan.
Some are also striving to reduce their CO2 emissions by opting for soil conservation agriculture, the planting of hedges or orchards or agroforestry. The key is the possible obtaining of the government’s low-carbon label and financing by companies or local authorities wishing to offset their CO2 emissions through “carbon credits”.
The State, chambers of agriculture and local authorities are there to support farmers in changing their practices. The Region, for its part, has notably launched a plan for the deployment of grape varieties resistant to the main diseases and to drought, endowed with 300,000 euros annually. It supports research, innovation and experimentation projects that change practices to the tune of 2 million euros per year and will implement a new measure at the beginning of 2023 concerning the improvement of protein autonomy in livestock farming. It has also been experimenting with the Sustainable Agriculture Contract for a year (see below).
The adaptation of the agricultural sector to climate change is essential. It is about the state of our planet, our health and our food security.
Solutions already tested
Aware of the change underway, farmers and researchers are already working on the future of our food production. Here are some examples in the Gard and the Pyrénées-Orientales.
Vézénobres: growing fruit and vegetables in the shade of trees
In Terres de Roumassouze (Gard), Denis Florès has been practicing agroforestry for ten years on an 11-hectare farm grown organically. Here, the tomatoes grow in the shade of the oaks, the peppers at the foot of the apple trees and the lettuces between the pear trees and the ash trees. “I wanted to move towards a different type of agriculture, with living and preserved soil”, explains the farmer, who uses three times less water than his colleagues in the region. “Agroforestry is a potential solution for market gardeners at a time of climate change: need to diversify production on small surfaces, reduction in the use of inputs, management of water resources, believes Valentin Laubriet, engineer agronomist at the Agroof design office. Not to mention the pleasure of working among trees rather than in the middle of the sun in summer, and the fact that trees contribute to carbon storage”.
Tresserre, protecting its vines with photovoltaic panels
Above the vineyards of the Domaine de Nidolères in Tresserre (Pyrénées-Orientales), 7,800 solar panels are constantly moving to capture, or on the contrary, protect themselves from the sun’s rays. “The vine under panels has more leaves than in the neighboring control area, explains Pierre Escudié, the owner of the premises. It is more vigorous, it did not suffer from the heat wave this summer”. In June, the temperature rose to 55°C in the sun in the vines and was limited to 42°C in the shaded plot. “I had been looking for thirteen years for a solution to protect my vines from global warming,” he explains. The Sun’R group teams provided it. Pierre Escudié hopes in the long term to obtain more acidic and more balanced wines, as in the past, and to boost the yield, currently 40 hectoliters per hectare. “We will soon have exceptional vintages every year!”, he wants to believe.
Rodlilhan, growing fruits and herbs vertically
Futura Gaïa, whose R&D laboratory is located in Rodilhan near Nîmes (Gard), is a new kind of vertical farm. Here grow from floor to ceiling, in a vast warehouse, aromatic herbs (basil, flat-leaf parsley, coriander), strawberries, flowers and salads, in clay tubs placed in the hollow of large wheels lit by rotating neon lights gently 24 hours a day. “We offer each plant the best possible conditions in terms of water, nutrients, temperature, humidity and CO2, sheltered from the vagaries of the weather, explains Pascal Thomas, founder and CEO of the company. the parameters are controlled and optimized in real time.This allows us to obtain fruits and vegetables of exceptional taste, nutritional and therapeutic quality, twice as quickly as in the open air and with 95% less water than ‘an irrigated crop’.
The Region launches Sustainable Agriculture Contracts
Sixty farmers tested the CADs. Among them, winegrowers from the Montpeyroux cooperative cellar in Castelbarry who want to reduce inputs and lower their energy consumption, and a group of milk cattle farmers from Comminges interested in the low carbon label. “It’s a revolution in supporting farmers who want to adopt practices that are more respectful of the environment and natural resources, while making a better living from their profession” according to President Carole Delga. Mass deployment of the system is planned for 2023.