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The fruits of her labour
In her orchards, research engineer Aude Alaphilippe, is innovating to develop and assess the sustainability of integrated crop production systems that produce more effectively while respecting the environment. At the INRA Gotheron Experimental Unit, she applies her research findings to industry needs in order to reap the fruits of high-performance arboriculture practices.
Aude Alaphilippe is blazing a trail rather than following a path. “I’m partial to trees,” she says to explain of her decision to study arboriculture at the National Horticulture and Landscape Management Institute in Angers, France. Through her studies, Alaphilippe caught the travel bug during her first stay at the University of Munich, where she assisted a graduate student’s research on apple scab. “When I came back, I did another internship in tree-fruit production in the Drôme region and realised that was what I really wanted to do and, if possible, to do it in that region.”
Agricultural engineering degree in hand following a year-long specialisation in crop protection at the Institute’s Rennes campus, Alaphilippe sought out a research internship in a laboratory at INRA Versailles. This was a crucial step to apply for a doctorate, which opened the door to the study of applied fruit arboriculture.
Closer to user needs
Orchards without borders
She has been focused on targeted research ever since. “After many months of laboratory research, I was finally able to put forward a successful PhD proposal in biological control methods with an institute in Italy. While preparing her PhD thesis, the travel bug continued to beckon. “I spent the majority of my time in Italy, but had to spend three months of every year living in a foreign country.” It’s a pattern she tried to continue following her return to INRA in 2008. “I find it really gratifying to explore opportunities for collaboration and sharing information.”
Initially, her research hypothesis examined whether covering apple tree leaves with microorganisms would alter the egg-laying behaviour of the codling moth, the biggest apple-tree pest. She also studied the secondary effects of this biocontrol method on non-target pests and diseases. Her research conclusions were unexpected. “Changes to the leaf surface were not sufficient to bring about a change in egg-laying behaviour.” Alaphilippe then spent considerable time trying to understand her findings with the help of her supervisors. “I was driven by the fact that this was truly an applied degree in agronomy in a part of Italy that has many vineyards and apple orchards in real need of alternative plant protection methods. My goal was to understand the issues at stake.” These experiences helped Alaphilippe with her career choice to “keep my thinking cap on while having eye on what is happening in the field, closer to the needs of users.”
Sharing sustainable arboriculture
Alaphilippe applied for a research engineer position at the Gotheron Experimental Unit. “Applied research, and in Drôme too; it was perfect,” she says. In studying the orchard as a whole, Alaphilippe is able to consider more complex crop systems and address new issues, such as how to measure the crop systems’ environmental impact. She uses life-cycle assessment (LCA) methods that she has adapted for permanent fruit crops. She has also created an open-source application for the arboriculture industry to determine tree durability. “Industry professionals are happy to have a dedicated arboriculture tool. The more people use it, the more successful it will be.” The DEXiFruits app looks at both the environmental and socioeconomic performance of various orchard-keeping practices. The app is a diagnostic and decision-making tool for industry stakeholders. A fine example of knowledge transfer to industry professionals, Alaphilippe says. “We worked with industry partners and technical institutes to identify their needs and to develop an app that could be used by everyone.” Working alone is not an option for Alaphilippe. “There is certainly an amiable side of research too, but what’s key for me is that you can call on experts when you need — which, if you are a bit of jack of all trades like myself, is really handy,” she adds jokingly.
The scope of Alaphilippe’s next project is vast and largely uncharted. With the introduction of multiproduction systems, “how can multiple productions on a single plot be measured and assessed? It is an enormous methodological challenge.” It is a challenge well suited to Alaphilippe’s expertise in bringing together research and professionals to go beyond and to do more.
- 36, one child
- 2000–2003: Master’s degree in landscape engineering, Horticulture Division, National Horticulture and Landscape Management Institute in Angers, France
- 2002–2003: Degree in agricultural engineering, plant production specialisation, National School for Agronomy in Rennes, France
- 2004–2007: PhD, Istituto Agrario di San Michele All’Adige
- 2008: began work at INRA as a research engineer at the Gotheron Experimental Unit for Integrated Research, INRA Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
- Since 2014: member of the International Organisation of Biological Control (IOBC)
- Interests: travel, meeting new people