Agriculture is both the primary culprit and the primary victim of global warming. According to the IPCC report, it emits a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions when deforestation is taken into account, through methane emissions from livestock and nitrous oxide linked to the use of nitrogen fertilizers. But still according to the IPCC, if the increase in global temperatures were to exceed 2 degrees by 2100, crops, as we know them, would not survive.
The agricultural sector is indeed very sensitive to climatic hazards, especially in our current production systems where monoculture requires stable conditions. However, global warming leads irremediably to climate change. This leads us to fear in the coming decades, the multiplication of extreme meteorological phenomena such as heat waves, droughts, soil salinization, large variations in rainfall, floods or the proliferation of parasites and diseases.
In France, some of these phenomena have already been observed and seem to be accelerating since the beginning of the century. This year alone, between successive heat waves, drought and late hailstorms at the time of flowering, farmers have been greatly tested.
All over the world, States will have to make agricultural systems more resilient if they want to retain their food sovereignty. Preserving biodiversity, water and soil is becoming an emergency.
Rethinking our production and consumption methods, changing our agricultural practices: the answers are multiple. NGO, associations and agricultural unions, all campaigning for change. From the decline of industrial agriculture in favor of organic farming, permaculture, agroforestry, to the consumption of local and seasonal products.
How to adapt?
On the innovation side, French Agri Tech is making progress and some fine French flagships are emerging. This is the case of Ombrea, a young shoot from Aix created six years ago by a family of farmers.
“We are UFOs in the world of start ups” has fun today to say Julie Davico-Pahin, its young co-founder.
It was indeed out of necessity that this 30-year-old launched herself into entrepreneurship with her father in 2016. That year, Christian Davico had lost a quarter of his production due to drought. “No matter how much we watered, the plants were literally roasting on their feet” she recalls.
Horticulturist in the Bouches-du-Rhône, this was not his first calamity. But at this rate, the question of the survival of the farm was indeed at stake. A concern shared by many neighbors and family members, from the market gardener grandfather, to the winegrower uncle or the breeder sister. of horses around Sainte Victoire and Aix-en-Provence.
How to adapt to these increasingly frequent drought episodes? How to protect crops from heat? From a farmer’s urgent question came an engineer’s answer: mobile shadehouses that provide protection when needed.
The project first submitted to a design office gave birth to a first pilot project. Installed on sliding ramps, automated solar panels open and close like a shutter when the temperature is too high. If at first, the reflection focused on the modulation of temperatures to avoid drought, very quickly the company understands that it is necessary to go further.
The founders of Ombrea then decided to form their own research and development team and now employ nearly fifty people. Doctors in biology, agronomists, computer and mechatronics engineers have developed a breakthrough technology that has been patented several times, which aims to protect crops, improve their yield and produce green energy.
Create a microclimate for plants
The facilities that the company offers today have become more sophisticated to adapt to all types of crops. High ramps for the vine have become rotary for the fruit trees. Equipped with sensors driven by artificial intelligence, the panels are able to change position in real time depending on weather conditions. Ombrea has created a tool that not only moderates the effects of droughts but can also prevent frosts or hail and ultimately ensures good plant development.
“By modifying the shade, we manage to modify the light, the temperature, the humidity and this has very strong consequences for the crops below. We save more than 20% of water by creating an optimal microclimate for the good development of the plant“says Julie Davico-Pahin.
The other advantage is to produce green energy thanks to solar panels.
A dozen farms are now equipped with dynamic shadehouses. Private farms, whether short circuit market gardening near Aix-en-Provence, plum or pomegranate orchards in the Var and vineyards in the South-West, but also local authorities such as Châteauneuf-le-Rouge, a municipality of Bouches-du-Rhône which supported a market gardening project to produce vegetables for the school canteen and the retirement home.
According to initial feedback, the Ombrea climate protection system has enabled a yield increase of around 20%, this is particularly the case for horticulture. For the vine, the first data are also positive. Less sun allows for lower sugar and alcohol levels. In general, being able to regulate sunshine avoids water stress in plants and guarantees better quality fruit and vegetables, believes Pierre-Antoine Chuste, Ombrea’s scientific manager.
No conflict of use
Since its commercialization, Ombrea has equipped approximately 120 hectares of cultivation with its dynamic shade system. Its objective is to reach 1,000 hectares in 2027.
France is a pioneer country in agrivoltaism with Israel and the United States, but Ombrea claims to be the only one to keep an agricultural approach.
“We have given ourselves a very clear course of action“says the young entrepreneur. “The impact must be positive for agriculture. Solar power generation is not our priority.”
In other words, the algorithm that drives the solar panels was developed to meet the needs of farmers in the face of climate emergencies. Solar production, far from being negligible, nevertheless remains a subsidiary objective.
This year, which broke heat records, everyone’s interests were in agreement, points out Thomas Carayol, Ombrea’s technical director. At the hottest times of the day, the panels are fully deployed to protect the crops and therefore produce electricity at full capacity.
But there is no question of ending up in potential conflicts of use. of agricultural operation.
To enable farmers to equip themselves without going into debt, it has promoted the third-party investor business model. The company works in partnership with energy companies such as the French Total Quadran or the Spanish Iberdrola who carry the investment of the structure to provide a quick solution to the farmers.
In their first year of operation, Ombrea was able to benefit from a European grant of 90,000 euros under the Climate kic program which supports innovations in the face of climate change. But to grow, the company decided to open its capital. The French impact fund Mirova, the South region and the Marseille shipping company CMA-CGM have enabled it to raise 17 million euros in 6 years.
In full swing, the young company displays its CSR values, with perfect gender parity on the board of directors, the establishment of paternity leave and the commitment to promote the installation of young farmers. Innovative and committed, the Provençal company is based in the Technopôle de l’Arbois, nestled in the forest, where it has found a favorable ecosystem which today places it in the list of the twenty most promising French Agri Tech companies. .
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Ombrea: smart shade structures to adapt agriculture to global warming
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