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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

Mirecourt: mixed crop–livestock systems and organic animal husbandry

Since 2004, Mirecourt Research Station, located on the Vosges Plain, has carried out concurrent research on two organic animal husbandry systems, one 100% grazing system, and one mixed crop–livestock system. Using a step-by-step approach, the project looks to minimize the use of inputs (no fertilizers, pesticides, or outside hay, limited fuel).

Mirecourt is the only experimental organic animal husbandry farm in the northeast of France.. © inra, Etienne Gaujour
Mirecourt is the only experimental organic animal husbandry farm in the northeast of France. © inra, Etienne Gaujour

Mirecourt’s two herds eat only feed produced at the research station, which covers 240 hectares of permanent and temporary pasture, cereal fields, and mixed cereal–protein crop fields. One herd of 40 cattle is 100% grass-fed. The second herd of 60 cattle has a more varied diet. Each herd is self-sufficient in fodder and the station as a whole is self-sufficient in straw and cereals.

Today, Mirecourt is the only experimental organic animal husbandry farm in the northeast of France and is also the only INRA research station that is entirely organic.

 

A progressive, step-by-step approach

The system experiment is designed to evolve over time. Each year, new “trials” are carried out to refine the interaction between crops and livestock. As a result, researchers have been able to reduce the need for ploughing in each crop rotation (a maximum of two ploughings per eight-year rotation). Based on various trials carried out since 2006, researchers are introducing intermediate crops this year that should be agriculturally beneficial in covering the soil, fixing nitrogen, fighting weeds, avoiding the need to break soil cover, and so on.

Milk yields in both systems are satisfactory. Holsteins in the grazing system produce 5,000 kg per year and Montbéliardes produce 4,800 kg per year. In the mixed crop–livestock system, production per year is 6,200 kg and 5,200 kg respectively.

 

A multicriteria assessment

Grass stocks in pastures are measured weekly by the height of the grass and by its density in grazed fields. Grassland yield is assessed by weighing the grass collected from each hay meadow and estimating the grass consumed in each grazing cycle.

Long-term agroenvironmental changes are also monitored using 74 georeferenced zones representative of the research station as a whole. Carbon, nitrogen, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and magnesium cycles are all tracked.

The station’s biological fertility is also analysed by studying ground beetle, insect and earthworm populations and the presence of spontaneous vegetation in the fields.

 

Window onto the evolution of practices

The research unit is more of an experimental knowledge-sharing forum than a place developing turnkey technical solutions. Researchers at Mirecourt had to themselves learn how to manage herd numbers according to the availability of fodder and straw rather than to the imperative of meeting France’s milk quota. They also had to learn how to manage crop weeding through the use of temporary pastures introduced into crop rotations and of alternative weeding practices such as hoeing and tine harrowing. The unit’s technicians also became trained in the use of essential oils and homeopathy for animal care.

“Over time, the research focus increasingly has become the technicians themselves and their ways of adapting their resources, standards, and work objectives” says Xavier Coquil, who jointly heads the system experiment with Jean-Louis Fiorelli. For visitors to the research station, interaction centres around these lessons learned, says its manager, Matthieu Godfroy. This way new methods and practices, such as two-year lactation, are discovered and can be studied thanks to collaborations between research and development.

 

For more information:

Agrosystems, Territories, Resources Research Unit (ASTER) – Mirecourt

Contact(s)
Scientific contact(s):

  • Xavier Coquil UR0055 ASTER Mirecourt Agro-Sytèmes Territoires Ressources Mirecourt
Associated Division(s):
Science for Action and Development
Associated Centre(s):
Nancy-Lorraine