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Vue d'ensemble de parcelles de différentes variétés de céréales : catalogue variétal des blés tendres d'hiver et des orges. La Minière (Yvelines).. © INRA, FOUCHARD Marc

Innovative Agricultural Systems: System Experiments

Dijon-Epoisses: the fight against weeds

Dijon-Epoisses’ system experiment in integrated crop management has been comparing four innovative, low-input crop production systems for ten years. Research has proven that it is possible to cut herbicide use by two thirds without losing control of weed outbreaks.

Dijon- Epoisses’ system experiment in integrated crop management has been comparing four innovative, low-input crop production systems for ten years.. © inra
Dijon- Epoisses’ system experiment in integrated crop management has been comparing four innovative, low-input crop production systems for ten years. © inra

Since Summer 2000, four prototype systems have been tested over 20 hectares: (1) minimum tillage; (2) integrated weed management with no mechanical weed control; (3) integrated weed management with mechanical weed control; and (4) “zero herbicides”. The control system is the typical local production system motivated by maximising profitability.


Pesticide use can be reduced 50 to 80%

“Prototype No. 3, with unrestricted, integrated weed management and mechanical weed control can reduce herbicide use by two thirds and reduce overall pesticide use by 50 to 80%” says project leader, Nicolas Munier-Jolain.

The environmental impact of the system is also very positive. The production system did not increase its energy footprint despite more frequent stubble ploughing, nor did it generate increased greenhouse gas emissions, largely due to the inclusion of legumes in diversified crop rotations.

By reducing inputs, a farmer can cut costs by €100–170/ha/year. However, the diversified crop rotation, combined with an average 19% reduction in wheat yields, lead to a gross loss of approximately €200. The inclusion of crops such as sorghum, broad beans, lupins, and soybean is largely responsible for this. Ultimately, reduced costs are not enough to cover the gross loss. In comparison to the control system, margins are reduced by about €100/ha/year, although this depends highly on fluctuating economic conditions.


Seed stocks, the key variable

A key feature of the study is the use of seed stock evaluation, a useful tool to measure the presence of weeds in the soil. One hundred soil core samples are taken from a 30 cm area of each plot and the seeds found therein are then analysed and identified in a lab, one by one, under a binocular microscope. Seed stock evaluation is rarely carried out in France or elsewhere in the world, yet it is essential to further our understanding of weed management.

Researchers examine soil organisms, like earthworms, and their microbiology as well. They also measure the transfer of pesticides from fields to surface and groundwater and the flux of greenhouse gas emissions, N2O and CO2, produced by the field.


Long-term value

The prototype systems have now been running under the same set of parameters for ten years, creating unique environments that have themselves become the subject of research, for example on the evolution of organic material in the soil. The benefits are being rediscovered of long-term experiments that allow cumulative effects to be observed.


A place to share know-how

Research teams at the station are constantly sharing information with visitors. The project emphasises both scientific and experimental outcomes as well as the dissemination of learned techniques and of knowledge to the agricultural community. It provides support for the agricultural industry as it changes practices, particularly in the context of the French government’s Ecophyto 2018 plan calling for reductions in pesticide use. “This project’s outcomes are diverse” says Guy Richard, Environment and Agronomy Division head. “The result is a body of knowledge to the benefit of both science and industry.” To date, over 800 farmers and around 50 consultants, trainers, and researchers have visited the Integrated Weed Management system experiment at Dijon-Epoisses in 2012.

For more information:

Dijon-Epoisses Research Station

Agroecology Joint Research Unit


Scientific contact(s):

Associated Division(s):
Plant Health and Environment, Plant Biology and Breeding
Associated Centre(s):