- EIP-AGRI Projects
- Focus groups
|Geographical scope|| |
biological pest control
Growing sustainable tropical crops in an outermost region of the European Union: that’s what Julien Villard has been doing since 2016. He left his job as a civil engineer on the European mainland and became a farmer in French Guiana. He set up Villandia Farm, 3 hectares of land where he is building a sustainable and resilient farming system, with a strong focus on agroforestry. The challenges that Julien faces in growing tropical crops are quite similar to the challenges farmers in continental Europe have to deal with.
At first, Julien Villard didn’t know what to do with the piece of agricultural land that he bought in French Guiana. Once he joined the French network for agricultural innovation and transfer set up for the French outermost regions (RITA), he received professional advice, which helped him to start growing his crops.
Julien: “Thanks to the RITA programme, I contacted expert agronomists who provided cutting-edge technical counselling. Besides, I quickly gained hands-on experience on my farm and expanded my knowledge on tropical crops by reading a lot of literature on the subject. Then I decided that it was time for a career change and to devote myself 100% to farming. I am now part of a network in South America dedicated to growing tropical crops better and more sustainably. Learning and becoming a better farmer together with this international community is very exciting!”
Julien is also involved in the EIP-AGRI network. He participated in the Focus Group on Climate-smart (sub) tropical Crops that delivered its report in February 2021. He joined this Focus Group because he was curious about the challenges that other European farmers face with growing tropical crops. Julien: “It became obvious that most problems encountered in these vastly different regions were strikingly similar to ours in French Guiana. Moreover, I enjoyed being able to discuss ideas with this very diverse panel of experts composed of researchers, academics and farmers. It definitely helped me grow my network!”
Julien cultivates pineapples, bananas and cacao on Villandia Farm, and sustainability and resilience play an important role in all his farm decisions. The practice he uses is contour farming. The cropping system is organised according to the existing topography along contour lines, which helps to prevent erosion and deal with heavy rain showers.
Julien: “For the sustainability of my farm, I focus on growing trees and associating them with crops as much as I can. This is the main principle of agroforestry. All my crops are laid out bearing in mind the impact on rainfall. For instance, we grow pineapples on raised beds following contour lines, with drainage channels at intervals that will accommodate surface runoff and allow it to move off the field with minimal soil loss. If pineapples are planted in the middle of the rain season, then the raised beds are particularly vulnerable to rainfall impact and erosion before planting. After planting, I install biodegradable mulching over those beds to protect them against heavy rainfall, even a few weeks before the actual planting of the pineapples. The mulch also prevents weeds, so it helps to avoid the use of herbicides.”
When it comes to pest-control, Julien's farm is herbicide and pesticide-free. Besides wishing to avoid the negative effects of chemical pesticides on the environment, Julien tries not to be reliant on particular chemicals, because this could make his production system unsustainable if the product would be banned.
Julien: “When you live in an outermost region, it is important to be self-sufficient. I am looking for a way to induce flowering in my pineapple plants, without relying on the current chemical plant growth regulators available on the market for conventional growers. This involves preparing in-house ethylene-enriched powdered charcoal, a totally natural mean used by organic growers. Through the use of ethylene forcing, flowering can be induced in pineapple throughout the year. I will switch to this new method as soon I master the technique.”
Regarding the future of Villandia Farm, Julien will steadily continue to make his farm as sustainable and resilient as possible. Julien: “When I am making a stroll through the property, I can sense that things are improving. There are more worms, increased biological activity and trees are healthy and growing well. I also come across more auxiliary fauna than in the past. This is a good sign and it is showing that the soil conservation measures are bearing fruit.”
“Therefore, I am observing good and inspirational practices, so that I can repeat the cycle at the same location. We are also looking at how we can grow our pineapples more sustainably. There is a wide avenue for improvement!”
Julien Villard (farmer)