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Launch of the first Industrial Research Chair in Agronomy focused on the control of grapevine trunk diseases

The purpose of the only Industrial Research Chair in Agronomy in France will focus on finding new ways to understand and control grapevine trunk diseases (GTD). Funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR), this Chair reinforces a collaboration initiated in 2015 between the global leader in the cognac sector, Jas Hennessy & Co, and the INRA-Bordeaux Sciences Agro Joint Research Unit for Vine Health and Agroecology. The programme aims to offer an agroecological protection strategy for vineyards that integrates the design of innovative management sequences, biocontrol techniques and genetic improvement. Launched officially at INRA's Bordeaux-Aquitaine Research Centre on 2 December, the "GTD Free" Industrial Chair will consolidate the synergies between research and industrial actors, to the benefit of producers and the sector as a whole.

Necrosis characteristic of grapevine Esca (or amadou), indicated by decaying wood with an orangy to whitish colour. The functional wood where vessels are situated is partially destroyed.. © INRA, P. Lecomte
Updated on 03/23/2017
Published on 12/05/2016

The winegrowing sector faces a major health crisis

Grapevine trunk diseases (GTD) constitute a range of pathologies (Esca, Botryosphaeria dieback, eutypiosis, etc.) which cause the dieback of grapevines and significant losses in vineyards worldwide. They involve several pathogenic fungi that gradually degrade the wood tissues of trunk and in the more or less long term will cause the complete or partial death of vine stocks. Since the ban on using sodium arsenite (the only compound known to be effective against esca) in France in 2001, harvest losses and the removal of vines have steadily increased. In 2014, 13% of French vineyards were considered to be unproductive because of GTD, notably following the spread of Esca, and represented losses of between 2.1 and 3.4 million hectolitres, or income worth around one billion Euros to producers.

Of all French wine-growing regions, the Charentes vineyard and its 75,000 hectares, mainly planted with the Ugni blanc variety, is one of the worst affected: the harvest losses caused by GTD are estimated at least 15% of production potential. This region has to respond to a specific challenge: to produce high-quality spirits distilled from wine, an objective that requires good vineyard health and a minimum number of unproductive vines. It is therefore necessary to be able to control the GTD that damage production.

A partnership at the service of innovation in vineyards

Jas Hennessy & Co has been committed to dealing with issues affecting the wine-growing sector for many years, as reflected by its involvement in the adaptation of vineyards during the Phylloxera crisis at the end of the 19th century. In a year when it is celebrating its 250 years of existence, and faced with the current threat to its vineyards, it has once again decided to support the industry and place its expertise at the service of the entire sector, alongside institutional programmes. Thus in 2014 it initiated its first call for projects, backed by funding worth €600, 000, in order to better understand and control GTD in practice. In September 2015, the INRA-Bordeaux Sciences Agro Joint Research Unit for Vine Health and Agroecology.was announced as a winner of this grant.

In 2016, the two partners then responded jointly to the "Industrial Chairs" call for projects from the ANR, designed to enhance the societal impact of research as well as the competitiveness of French industrial sectors of strategic importance. In June last year, the ANR selected  this project, which it will be funding – to a level of €1.2 million over the period 2016-2020, in concertation with Jas Hennessy & Co – for a global cost of €2.73 million. This Industrial Chair, the only one in France, testifies to both the strategic challenge represented by the control of these plant diseases, and the need to reinforce research that targets new and practical applications.

Designing agroecological protection methods for vineyards

The project put forward for the GTD Free Industrial Chair concerns the influence of environmental factors and cropping practices on the expression of grapevine trunk diseases and plant-microbiota interactions. It aims to propose an agoecological strategy for the protection of vineyards that integrates the design of innovative crop management techniques, biocontrol methods and genetic improvement. The overall ambition is to provide solutions that can be generalised to the Cognac region as well as to all vineyards in France and other countries.

Three main topics structure this project:

  1.    Analysing and understanding the influence of environmental factors on the spread of diseases;
  2.    Investigating the composition, localisation and functioning of micro-organisms involved in these diseases;
  3.    Studying the tolerance of grapevine trunk diseases in vineyards.

 

Over the period from 2016 to 2020, this project will mobilise a community of 25 research scientists, engineers and technicians on fundamental and applied research work, as well as actions for the training of professionals and more generally the transfer of scientific and technical findings to the viticulture sector. It will reinforce the national and international standing of INRA in this area, and confirm the role of Jas Hennessy & Co as a leader and supporter of the wine industry.

Industrial Chairs, at the heart of innovation

The Industrial Chairs instrument, funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR), aims to carry out fundamental and applied research in areas of major strategic importance to France. A Chair constitutes a sustainable commitment by its public and private partners. The partner company is central to the mechanism, enabling work on research issues inspired by the market and oriented towards the mission of training through research in the context of developing scientific and technological innovations. The instrument supports the hosting or promotion within research institutions of scientists with an international reputation who can thus develop research and training through research with and within the host entity, alongside specific training in the fields covered by the Industrial Chair.