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Case study 5: France: The alternatives to irrigated maize monoculture

Cluster 1: Service crops

Maize mono-cropping and problems associated with weed management, soil erosion, soil quality and pest pressure have caused negative agronomic impacts in the Hautes Pyrénées and Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Therefore, farmers from these regions have been pushed to look for agronomic innovations, such as crop diversification or the use of service crops, with participants upstream and downstream in the value chain in order to solve the problem.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?

Since the beginning of the 1990s, water agencies have highlighted the negative impact of maize mono-cropping on water resources in both quantitative and qualitative terms. In addition, farmers are facing agronomic problems associated with weed management, soil erosion, and soil quality and pest pressure (e.g. wireworms). Some action was taken to limit nutrient and water losses but, in a period of high maize prices, these were not adopted by the farmers.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?

Since the price of maize grains for feed started to fluctuate, farmers began looking for solutions to reduce production costs while simultaneously solving their agronomic problems. Some of these farmers are involved in the Ecophyto dynamic. This dynamic has mobilized approximately 3000 farms in France, including around 220 farms in the southwestern part of the country. Twenty farmers from the Hautes Pyrénées (maize grains mainly exported to Spain) and Pyrénées-Atlantiques (maize grains for local pigs, cattle or poultry production) are looking for agronomic innovations to solve these problems. This dynamic has to be supported.

Solutions investigated

Crop diversification is a potential solution, as highlighted by trials that aim to set up rapeseed production in the rotation. Some farmers would like to introduce spring crops, such as soybean, in the rotation. The introduction of other cereal crops within the rotation may lead to the increased use of pesticides, which calls for alternative solutions. There is a need to support the evolution/organisation of the upstream and downstream participants, such as cooperatives, in the chain.
The use of service crops involving cruciferous species (sown alone or intercropped with legumes) for example, is also a promising alternative to control wireworms but requires further adoption.

Expected outcomes

  • Tackle socio-economic challenges involving up- and downstream actors in the value chain. 
  • Encourage the introduction of alternative spring crops (such as soybeans) on a regional and local scale in order to share methods, results and promote discussions between farmers and engineers. 
  • Reduce the dependence on pesticide input through adopted management strategies.
  • Test and determine which service crop or combination of service crops could be used to mitigate the monoculture issues (such as erosion linked to bare soils, pest management and nitrogen and pesticide leaching).

Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals?

One objective of the DiverIMPACTS project and the clusters in Hautes-Pyrénées and Pyrénées-Atlantiques is to set up some working groups in order to clearly identify the factors limiting crop diversification.


  • Olivier Micos, APCA Occitany, case study leader
  • Lionel Alleto, APCA Occitany, case study leader