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Nitrogen autonomy: the PEI-Partage project presents its results

09 Dec 2022

Finding solutions to make cropping systems more autonomous in nitrogen and with less environmental impact: this was the objective of the PARTAGE project, the Regional Agronomic Program for Agroecological Transition in the Grand Est region, supported by the PEI (1) and coordinated by the Grand Est Regional Chamber of Agriculture (CRAGE).

Terres Inovia led one of the three axes of this project, which brought together 18 partners around agro-ecological issues in order to reduce nitrogen emissions, the main agricultural pollution, by sharing knowledge among agricultural stakeholders. A symposium, organized on November 17 at Prouvé de Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle), allowed to share the results of this work.  

As Christian Schott, from the CRAGE's international cooperation commission, pointed out in conclusion to the conference, "Nitrogen: the magic input of the post-war period, is today proving to be a polluting and expensive commodity. Bravo to this very pioneering project that strives to share tracks with farmers to act on the ground, making the link between environmental and economic issues!"


Exchanges and experiments in the field

For more than three years, the work consisted in mobilizing a network of farmers (Living Lab) around three themes controlling mineral nitrogen inputs to cereals as close as possible to vital needs strengthening the symbiotic nitrogen input through the production of seed legumes recycling organic matter via digestates from methanization in the territories.

In this project, Terres Inovia was able to share the knowledge acquired within the UMT Alter'N on nitrogen losses, to evaluate the insertion of legumes in the production systems of the Grand Est region in economic and environmental terms, and to work with partners to better understand the blocking points during the last campaigns for the success of pea and faba bean in the regional context.
For Pascal Collard, chairman of the PEI-PARTAGE steering committee, "avoiding losses of exogenous inputs, reintroducing more renewable nitrogen from symbiotic fixation of air nitrogen by legumes and recycling organic nitrogen to produce biogas are the three avenues explored," he said at the symposium.

Innovations to reduce losses of nitrogen inputs

After a reminder of the geopolitical context that is forcing us to rethink nitrogen nutrition, this conference presented the results of four years of experimentation in the Grand Est region to manage nitrogen fertilization in wheat, with testimonies from Chambers of Agriculture and producers. A round table was organized. The objective was to share the experience of the PARTAGE project advisors on their support to farmers to change their practices in order to reduce nitrogen losses.


During the course of the project, the advisors noted that nitrogen had become a strategic issue: in addition to the exponential increase in the price of nitrogen, farmers complained about nitrogen losses in the plots (volatilization and leaching). It is by anchoring the advice on the case of each farmer and with quantified data on nitrogen losses that awareness was raised.
We were also able to shed light outside our borders on the levers of organic fertilization of meadows in Wallonia and on new methods of nitrogen fertilization of wheat in Germany to reduce losses (CULTAN method with nitrogen injection or addition of inhibitors).

The map of legumes to help close the nitrogen cycle

Anne Schneider, research officer in economics, agronomy and environment at Terres Inovia, and Bastien Remurier, development engineer, took part in this conference by highlighting the work carried out on legumes in PARTAGE.
A multi-criteria study

A study conducted by Terres Inovia in the Grand Est region on a series of representative situations has made it possible to calculate the variation in the net rotational margin when a leguminous crop is introduced. Looking at a multi-year perspective, this insertion is variable depending on the context, with a majority of situations where the margin is equivalent or better. The increase in margin is even +13% to 18% when the farmer inserts a pea in two dominant cropping systems (with a more or less short rotation), currently present on superficial clay-limestone soils.

The current context of rising prices reinforces the interest in the previous effects of legumes on dominant crops such as wheat (savings in nitrogen charges or increased yields), even if the cyclically very high prices of rapeseed or wheat can dilute this effect.
Observatories in plots

In addition, in order to reinforce the control of pea and faba bean crops in the face of increasingly early and random water stress or high temperatures, observatories in farmers' plots have been set up for a more detailed agronomic diagnosis. On this basis, dashboards are now developed so that farmers can identify and control the key determinants of the success of a robust legume.  

A new Decision Support Tool for farmers

In order for legumes to be integrated in crop rotations and to express their benefits in the best possible way, Terres Inovia is deploying different tools:

A future DST (decision support tool) to facilitate the decision of farmers to insert legumes, by approaching as closely as possible their own situation, the economic interest, the best choices among candidate species, the benefits to be expected according to their priorities, the existing outlets, etc. Called Atout'LEG, this tool will be available in 2023.

References to support the transition of farm systems to produce plant proteins whil contributing to the carbon neutrality of territories (regional economic studies, quantification of climate change mitigation levers)

Support for agronomic diagnosis and the implementation of dashboards for a robust seed legume.

In addition, two testimonies put the PARTAGE work into perspective. Pierre Alban Jacquet, a farmer from the Grand Est region, testified to the awareness of the key role of pea when rethinking agricultural production on a cropping system scale. Downstream, Elise Bourcier (C&DAC) came to explain how this agri-food laboratory based in Nancy deploys industrial transformations, such as fermented faba beans, to bring added value to these seeds and to facilitate their integration by the agri-food industries, which are looking for more and more plant proteins.




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