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Designing agricultural systems from invention to implementation: the contribution of agronomy. Lessons from a case study

Prost, Lorène, Reau, Raymond, Paravano, Laurette, Cerf, Marianne, Jeuffroy, Marie-Hélène
Agricultural systems 2018 v.164 pp. 122-132
agroecology, agronomists, agronomy, case studies, farmers, production technology, watersheds
This article reports on the long-term involvement of research agronomists in a design process of agricultural systems in a water catchment area. While agriculture is facing increasing challenges to meet current societal expectations, several studies in agronomy have focused on the design processes that allow farmers to change their agricultural systems. Most of these processes have been dedicated to designing target agricultural systems but, more recently, several studies have acknowledged that agro-ecological practices replace farmers as the actual designers of their own production systems. In this context, how can agronomists support such design processes? How does a better understanding of these processes challenge the inputs that research agronomists can propose, to support them? We contribute to answering these questions by reviewing a case study of a design process supported and analyzed by research agronomists over several years. This case illustrates that the design of agricultural systems is a process that exceeds invention: the implementation of the initial design solutions produces information that should be used to review those same solutions, in order to reach the design goal. The case study shows that the design process depends on a tension between the exploration of an ambitious desirable future and its actual implementation. To foster dialogue between “desirable” and “actual”, we show how the researchers involved in this case provided a range of inputs that supported typical design activities (grounding, fostering design reasoning, reinterpreting this reasoning, and design strategy throughout the process), thus opening new avenues of research in agronomy.