Agritech, a market with great potential… for France!
While her famous fair will end in a particularly tense and pessimistic climate for her, French agriculture is still and always the first in Europe, with agricultural production representing 70 billion euros (2012), which in fact one of the engines of our foreign trade (balance of 9.2 billion euros for processed agricultural products in 2014). The undisputed European leader and world benchmark in the agricultural sector, French agriculture must however renew and innovate to remain competitive while continuing to develop in a sustainable manner. And new technologies are going to have a huge role to play in this process.
Well thought out and well used, technology can help develop cleaner, more competitive and more environmentally conscious agriculture. Innovation must therefore affect agriculture, like any other sector of the French economy, all the more so if we consider the economic weight and the strategic nature it represents for our country. France must be a leader in the field of agritech, because it has all the cards in hand to be so.
France, a pioneer of agritech
The good news is that France is not left out in the field of agritech: several examples of concrete innovations, which are already meeting with great success, testify to this. Thus, in the field of “Big Data” – so strategic for farmers, who rely daily on the use of data from the land and the climate – the company FRUITION SCIENCES * was awarded a prize for a project applied to viticulture: recently compared to the traditional method in Los Angeles, the “Fruition” method has made it possible to save, depending on the area, between 20% and 100% water. This proves the profitability of such a technology.
Regarding connected objects and in particular drones, France (one of the first European countries to have clear regulations in this area) can boast of a certain technological advance. Illustration with society AIRINOV * (PARROT group) whose drones are coupled with sensors and algorithms to translate the data collected into good agronomic practices. Very recently, PARROT also announced the marketing of the new sensor Sequoia, dedicated to the multispectral fusion of images dedicated to crop monitoring. Bpifrance has invested 33 million euros in PARROT’s capital to enable it to accelerate its development and consolidate its leadership in the drone markets – particularly in agriculture.
Precision agriculture also uses robots, which also help reduce the arduousness of tasks: in this area, the manufacturer SQUARE* partnered with the start-up NAIO TECHNOLOGIES * to develop an autonomous market gardening robot, which performs hoeing and weeding, as an alternative to the use of herbicides. An industrial and technological innovation that is of great interest for organic farming, reducing manual tasks while increasing productivity.
How to move from the status of pioneer to that of leader?
Even if they demonstrate the dynamism of the agritech sector in France, these advances and innovations must still be encouraged and supported, in order to multiply. In view of its weight and its agricultural history, France must be the leader in agritech tomorrow.
What should be done about it? First of all, continue to support research and companies that innovate in this field. This requires the establishment of an agritech fund, dedicated to financing innovative and promising projects, those which will allow France to position itself now on a global market destined to explode in the years to come.
In the same logic, the creation of incubators primarily intended to accommodate these companies which are entering the agritech market, by offering them the conditions for their success. Bringing together researchers, engineers and innovative entrepreneurs in the same places would also be the best way to pool resources and ideas, to create winning collaborations / alliances and accelerate a process that is just waiting to be started. The involvement of major players in the agricultural world, such as large cooperatives or specialized industries, would be an additional advantage to allow the French agritech sector to establish itself as a global benchmark – an objective that does not seem crazy when ‘we know the strength and strengths of our agricultural landscape.
As if to encourage us in this direction, promising initiatives are already emerging in France, with the support of innovative players. One of the latest examples: the Agriculture 2025 plan (launched in October 2015 by the Ministry of Agriculture) which offers, among other things, the creation of “living labs”, that is to say, experimentation platforms open to farmers, allowing them to independently test new sustainable practices. These structures would promote partnerships between large cooperatives, start-ups and farmers, host start-ups and call for the establishment of innovative financing.
Putting innovation at the service of agriculture also means integrating the latter’s values, in order to better contribute to improving the living conditions of all humanity. The nascent agritech sector must in particular pursue two major objectives: participate in sustainable development and allow our planet to feed its 9 billion inhabitants by 2025. A vision already embodied by certain French initiatives such as “La Ruche qui dit oui ”(which allows to recreate short circuits and a link between agricultural producers and consumers) or MIIMOSA (crowdfunding platform dedicated to the financing of farms, with modest funds and in return for goods in kind). Undoubtedly the best way to promote French agricultural know-how and its reputation, even today and tomorrow.
*Editor’s note, the companies mentioned have been financially supported by Bpifrance.
Paul-Francois Fournier is Executive Director Bpifrance Innovation & Member of the Executive Committee, since 2013. He joined the France Telecom Orange Group in 1994 as a business engineer in the Business France segment. After a seven-year career dedicated to the development of business services, in 2001 he became Director of Broadband Business at Wanadoo, where he ensured the take-off in France of ADSL offers which increased from a few thousand customers in 2001. to 3 million at the end of 2004, then internationally as a member of the Executive Committee of the Wanadoo Group. He has thus led strategic projects such as the launch of the Livebox and voice over IP, in partnership with Inventel and Netcentrex, French start-ups.