At the Lamothe campus in Haute-Garonne, engineers from the Purpan school are working on the agriculture of tomorrow. Their challenge: to produce as much, while preserving the environment and health. Or how innovation is at the service of the terroir.
This Thursday in September, the herds of the Lamothe estate have visitors. Ninety new students came to make their mark and familiarize themselves with this large farm-campus, where they will be required, throughout their course, to carry out their practical work and internships.
Divided into several groups, face masks and notebooks in hand, they roam the different spaces presented to them by teacher-researchers from the Purpan Engineering School (EIP), which owns the premises. Under one of the stalls, a teacher has them compare the different types of forage. For some, this is the first time they have set foot in such exploitation. However, they decided to make farming their profession, integrating the EIP. To better control what they will feed their children tomorrow.
The motivations have nothing to do with those of the past, and real vocations are born in some without their families being familiar with the agricultural world. This is the case with Agathe. His parents are doctors. What drives him: “The proximity to people and the ecological concerns of the moment. Agrifood is something that must change, especially by being more respectful of the environment “.
Among his comrades, Marceau, with a precise professional project: “I want to become an oenologist. My father is a winegrower, and I have always been immersed in this environment. It is a profession of the future, there is always room for innovation. If I joined the EIP, it’s because I want to be an agricultural engineer above all. But the animal world is a total discovery for me “, admits the young man, glancing at the cows which, just behind him, observe the group of students peacefully. Attachment to the terroir, curiosity, and the desire to move the lines are at the center of their respective projects, however different they may be. And these are exactly the values that Purpan’s school holds.
“Ecologically intensive” agriculture
Here, we are convinced that eating well tomorrow will require less the discovery of new foods or the ability to boost what already exists in an artificial way, than by intelligently exploiting what we already have on hand.
The Lamothe campus is presented as a huge field of experimentation around four platforms: anaerobic digestion, poultry farming, dairy cows and agronomy. We also work on plant genetics, herd nutrition, seedlings, and soil fertilization. Almost infinite fields of research which converge towards the same objective: to work for “ecologically intensive” agriculture, as defended by Jean Daydé, research director at EIP. “This is a concept posed by Michel Griffon, agronomist and economist, which comes down to reconciling productivity and preservation of the environment. “
These 218 hectares near Seysses are aimed above all at students, who will all have to go through the Lamothe hut in addition to their theoretical courses in Toulouse, but also to a much wider audience: “We receive farmers, veterinarians, technicians from the chamber of agriculture, or even machinery dealers who come to give demonstrations ”. Four employees work there permanently. In short, a place dedicated to education, to the sharing of experiences, and resolutely turned towards the future.
Because just because your boots are full of mud doesn’t mean you work the old fashioned way. Starting with the fully automated 120 Prim’Holsteins milking. Under the stall shed, the cows manage themselves. When they feel the need, that is to say 2.5 times a day on average, they go to the back of the building, pass an airlock and spontaneously position themselves in the milking area. There, the robot locates the teats by laser beam, and positions itself there.
On the other side of the device, the breeder can monitor in real time the quantity and quality of the milk that is extracted from the animal. Everything is displayed on a screen. No risk of overtreatment: when there is no more milk, the machine knows it, releases the udder, and the animal can return to its diaper or the feeding area. Finally, the robot also detects hormones, making it possible to monitor the cow’s reproductive cycles.
For Jean Daydé, tools of this kind guarantee a better job for the farmer, and, at the end of the chain, better products. And don’t talk to him about the dehumanization of the profession: “On the contrary, machines and artificial intelligence allow professionals to get rid of certain ancillary tasks in order to free up time and better devote themselves to the heart of their profession. Less milking must mean more time observing the cows. “
On the field side, the campus is equipped with drones that fly over the farms to spot unwanted plants and avoid the use of weedkillers. This is particularly the case with datura present in corn fields. “Limiting chemical inputs is one of our concerns. We completely stopped using glyphosate in 2018. As we are going to be banned more and more molecules, which is normal, we absolutely have to find other ways of doing things. Drones are a less polluting and more precise technology, ”says Jean Daydé.
Irrigation is also carried out in an appropriate manner thanks to connected stations which provide information on weather conditions: the key to saving water. The cultivators are equipped with cameras for precision weeding. “We don’t use technology for technology. But tomorrow, we will be judged on our carbon and energy balance. We have to put an end to the outdated idea that a farmer is a polluter. “
Local production and autonomy
The perfect food can no longer be judged on its nutritional qualities alone. Today, the production conditions of a product increasingly influence consumer choice. The students agree: “It will be necessary to favor a food produced nearby”, believes Agathe, and ideally, “to ensure that there is no surplus”, for Marceau.
So at Lamothe, we make sure to set an example. Cereal production, soybeans, corn, alfalfa, is used primarily to feed the animals on the site. The chickens only eat seeds that have grown a few feet away. As for cows, the aim is to promote fodder autonomy. Alfalfa and meslin are gradually replacing imported soybeans. For this, it was necessary to stop the monoculture of maize, and to set up more complex, longer rotations, to diversify the crops, on soils that are never left bare, as was still the case a few years before. . As for the milk produced, it is currently sold to an industrial group. “But soon, we will be making our yogurts, our cheeses and our ice creams. “
For these young people who are starting their school year with good intentions, the challenge will soon also be not to lose sight of their ideals while taking into account the imperatives of world markets. Jean Daydé says: “That there are some globalized products, I agree. But we must also rediscover local fruits for example. Today we eat less plum because it is too expensive. “Between short circuits and opening up to the international market, as with the composition of a good meal, everything is a question of balance.
The school in a few figures
Founded in 1919 by the Jesuits, the various post-baccalaureate courses of the EIP prepare for more than 300 professions. 1,200 students evolve on campus each year, trained by 63 teacher-researchers. To meet them, the next open day will take place on Saturday 12 December, upon registration on www.purpan.fr
Products under the microscope
EIP is interested in all types of food products. Thus, in recent years, a research project on spirulina has been carried out, with the production of cookies and spreads based on this algae. In a more “terroir” approach, engineers have also worked on lactic ferments which allow cabécou to regain its original taste.