Agronomy Research Expertise in Montpellier and Languedoc-Roussillon (South of France)

Agronomy : crops and cropping systems

UR PSH Plant and Garden Cropping Systems (in French)

Member institutes and partners  : Inra Avignon

The research unit (UR) Horticultural Crops and Cropping Systems (PSH, INRA) conducts research on horticultural crops, especially fruits and vegetables for fresh consumption (peaches, apples, tomatoes, etc.). Its ultimate aim is to contribute to the development of technical and landscape scenarios that will help promote the quality of harvested crops and environment-friendly cropping.

To achieve these objectives, research is focused on plants, their fruits and pest populations so as to gain greater insight into and model their responses to the environment and trophic ‘plant-pest-natural enemy’ relationships. Research is also carried out on a cropping system scale to understand and model plant functioning when affected by technical operations and in interaction with the physical and biotic environments.

Three teams conduct this research:

  • Plant Architecture and Resource Management: the aim is to study and model links between nutrient resource (water, carbon, nitrogen) acquisition and usage functions and the architectural development of whole plants. These ecophysiological studies are based on flow measurements and analysis of organ formation processes within a source-sink system in interactions that determine the above-ground and root architecture of plants. Modelling of growth, nitrogen nutrition on short time steps and the combined transport of water and N and C resources within the plant architecture are key areas of expertise of this team. Studying interactions between these processes and the biotic environment of crops (pest and disease constraints) is a new research focus.
  • Ecophysiology of Fruit Quality: the aim is to describe and model processes involved in the development of fleshy fruit quality under genomic and plant control in interaction with the physical environment and technical interventions. Through the Virtual Fruit modelling platform, different models of the quantitative integration of physiological functions involved during fruit development and growth (cell division and multiplication, growth, sugar, acid and antioxidant compositions, etc.) may be combined.
  • Ecology of Integrated Production: the first objective is to understand the causal chain that links cropping practices and farming landscape features with the functioning of horticultural systems defined by their constituents (plants, soil, pests, natural enemies) and with the performances of these systems: production, plant health, environmental impacts and on some populations that are involved in functional biodiversity within orchards. On this basis, the second objective is to design technical and landscape scenarios tailored to integrated production. The models are essential to our approach and make it possible to interlink knowledge from different disciplines, while facilitating in silico design steps.

The unit’s work is supported by research and technical platforms (biochemical analysis and molecular biology laboratories, culture rooms, insectary, greenhouses, tunnels and experimental orchards based at the Domaine St Paul-Avignon and the Gotheron integrated research unit). PSH has developed the Totomatix automaton to manage plant mineral nutrition on an hourly scale under controlled conditions.

A workshop zone spans an area of 70 km² in Basse Vallée de la Durance, and serves as a base for many in situ research studies, especially for the analysis of farmers’ practices and the spatiotemporal dynamics of pest populations in relation with their natural enemies and landscape components. Finally, modelling is pivotal to the unit’s research activities.

Major collaborations are under way with French and international research teams. Many studies are conducted in partnership with technical and agricultural development institutes.

Director: Hélène Gautier

24  scientists

Unit website

List of research examples/projects for the resarch unit UR PSH Plant and Garden Cropping Systems (in French) on Agronomy: crops and cropping systems topics

Plant architecture and in-plant water supply and transfer

Water potential simulation by the water extraction and transfer model

Water supply has a marked impact on plant functioning in terms of resource acquisition (water/mineral uptake and photosynthesis), assimilate allocation to different organs and therefore control of organ growth.

A plant water uptake and transfer model was developed. This model is based on plant architecture descriptions combined with characterization of


Virtual Fruit–a model to gain insight into fruit quality

Simulation of temporal variations in the physiological profile of fruit of a wild genotype and a mutant for sugar transport to the fruit (values increase from green to red).

Fruit quality is the result of many highly interacting physiological processes that are controlled by many genes whose intensity varies with the environment and cropping practices. The genetic, environmental and cropping factors controlling the intensity of the processes and their interactions have to be understood before being able to manage this quality, which (...)

Population dynamics and natural control of pests and diseases in an orchard landscape

Apple orchard in the </em>Basse vallée de la Durance region (France) and emergence of a codling moth. P.Franck Sahlbergella singularis adult and nymphs on a cocoa pod.

A very high number of orchard-wide pesticide treatments are required to control pests and diseases in apple and pear orchards. In southeastern France, the codling moth (Cydia pomonella) is the main focus of these treatments. However, the biological characteristics of this pest species (dispersal capacity, high preference for pome fruit) suggest that (...)

Impact of apple orchard cropping systems on wild birds

Tree sparrows were highly sensitive to chemical pesticides and thus only found in orchards managed by organic farming strategies

Conventional crop protection strategies that rely on chemical pesticides to control pests in apple orchards have prompted the development of pesticide resistance in codling moths (apple worms), leading to an increase in the frequency of non environment-friendly pesticide treatments. Crop protection strategies differ markedly due to the adoption of alternative (...)

Modelling plant-pest interactions and assessing technical integrated production scenarios

A green peach aphid (Myzus persicae) infestation on a peach branch

Problems associated with integrated production are especially marked in horticulture. This is an ideal field for designing innovative agricultural systems, which is a major methodological challenge facing agriculture today. The underlying scientific challenge is to clarify functional interactions between horticultural plants and pests under the influence of cropping (...)


Update on 19/04/12


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