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Growing winter wheat cultivars under different management intensities in France: A multicriteria assessment based on economic, energetic and environmental indicators

Loyce, C., Meynard, J.M., Bouchard, C., Rolland, B., Lonnet, P., Bataillon, P., Bernicot, M.H., Bonnefoy, M., Charrier, X., Debote, B., Demarquet, T., Duperrier, B., Félix, I., Heddadj, D., Leblanc, O., Leleu, M., Mangin, P., Méausoone, M., Doussinault, G.
Field crops research 2012 v.125 pp. 167-178
breeding, crop management, disease resistance, energy, energy costs, environmental impact, environmental indicators, fossil fuels, fungi, fungicides, growth regulators, high-yielding varieties, lodging, management systems, nitrogen fertilizers, oils, prices, profitability, seeds, water quality, winter wheat, France
Since the 1970s, winter wheat management in France has focused on growing high-yielding cultivars with the intensive use of external inputs. However, over the last 10 years, breeding priorities have changed in favour of the development of cultivars with multiple resistance to fungal diseases and lodging. Low-input strategies have also been developed, to reduce costs and to meet environmental targets. In this study, we assessed the economic, energetic and environmental performances of three cultivars (C) grown under four management intensities. Two of these cultivars (Isengrain and Trémie) are both high-yielding and disease-susceptible, whereas the third (Oratorio) is multiresistant to diseases and lodging but has a lower potential yield. The four crop management systems (CM) were designed with a decrease in input level (seeds, N fertilizer, fungicides, growth regulator) from CM1 to CM4. We set up a multi-year and multi-site network to test the C–CM pairs in a wide range of environments. The evaluation of C–CM pairs was based on a set of indicators dealing with economics (profitability, input and machinery costs per tonne), environment (pesticide use, N recovery), and energy (energy use efficiency, energy costs). As regards profitability and costs per tonne, we assessed the vulnerability of the C–CM pairs to several grain and oil price scenarios. The demonstration of synergy between the two types of innovation (multiresistant cultivars, low-input management) is a major result: each makes the other more profitable, increasing its chances of adoption in the field. The ecology-based technology package, involving the use of lower-yielding multiresistant cultivars under lower external input levels, was more profitable when grain prices were low (less than €123–157 per tonne (for low and high oil prices, respectively)). By contrast, the intensive technology package, consisting of high-yielding cultivars and high levels of external inputs (N, fungicides and growth regulators), was more profitable when grain prices exceeded €123–157 per tonne (for low and high oil prices, respectively). However, it was less optimal in terms of fossil energy use and potential environmental impact. In a context of fluctuating grain and oil prices and a need to preserve resources (e.g. fossil energy, water quality), our results demonstrate the potential benefits of using low-input crop management systems, with cultivars displaying multiple resistance to diseases and lodging (Oratorio-CM3). The loss of productivity (1tha⁻¹ less than for Isengrain-CM2) due to the lower yield potential of the multiresistant cultivar and the lower levels of inputs must be seen as a necessary evil if we are to decrease the overuse of resources. There is a need to adapt current procedures for cultivar evaluation, to promote the breeding of multiresistant cultivars for low-input systems. New cultivars should be evaluated under a range of conditions, from high- to low-input systems.