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ASTER-ix and the Golden Tool

Jean-Marie Trommenschlager is a genuine revolutionary, participating in the Green Revolution, as the research station’s livestock technician, and the Digital Revolution, creating tools for technicians and researchers to exchange information. Now, he is playing a key role in preparing the Unit’s work for the Organic and System Experiment Revolutions of today.

Jean-Marie Trommenschlager, winner of the 2014 INRA Research Support Award. © INRA, C. Maître
By Cécile Poulain, translated by Daniel McKinnon
Updated on 11/07/2014
Published on 11/05/2014

A resourceful resource

He has been a keen technologist for really quite some time. The delivery of a monstrous early computer in 1982 known as a “Micral” nearly turned him away from the cows and calves he had been pampering since arriving at INRA in 1976. “I actually used it again just the other day” says Trommenschlager with a smile. Livestock technician by training, he has been adding software, data, and self-developed programmes to the Micral ever since. At this INRA research station with 250 cattle on 240 hectares in deepest Vosges, Trommenschlager is the vanguard of the digital revolution. His favourite part of the revolution: the way modern technology can lighten a workload. In 1988, he automated the system to distribute and individually control feed rations for the station’s cattle. He is passionate, tenacious, and relentless. He “goes all out once he puts his mind to something”.

Great things are done when men and mountain meet

During this time, people at the research station were starting to put their heads together to think collectively about the Green Revolution happening all around. For a while, Trommenschlager was given support so he could “produce more”. But during the 1980s, the area, close to the French spa town of Vittel, began worrying about the impacts of nitrate use. There was an overdependence on inputs. So the station sought a “third way”, moving from intensive to more extensive agriculture. In 2004, the research station went organic and was split in two. One herd was placed in a “100% grazing” system and the other in a mixed crop–livestock system, with each herd entirely self-sufficient. These pioneering researchers laid the groundwork for systems experiments, a type of research that looks at an experiment step by step to breakdown the impact of each practice to the ecosystem. Trommenschlager became the go-to man for system experiments. He took up the mantle of this revolution with a kindly ear and an eye to the station and its staff’s best interests. He was proactive in creating the research programme and developed a number of research protocols. In close collaboration with the Unit’s teams, he also redefined work roles. This livestock expert-cum-computer scientist is more than a support staff member; he has co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed journal articles, including one as first author.

In wearing two hats, Trommenschlager was able to develop data collection protocols and to create ASTER-ix, a database for streamlining data management. With thousands of pieces of information circulating daily between researchers, technicians, cattle, and pastures, ASTER-ix is able to accurately compile data as varied soil carbon levels in plot No. 1, the number of ground beetles in plot No. 3, diversity in pasture No. 4, the amount of grass eaten by cow No. 5 and its milk production, fuel consumption, economic performance, and so on. Once developed, he set about training people to use it, both at the station and from further afield. Not only has ASTER-ix become the cornerstone of the Unit’s work, it has been taken up by a number of national research networks as well.

Truly, praise from Caesar for Trommenschlager and his ASTER-ix!

Jean-Marie Trommenschlager, winner of the 2014 Research Support Award, and his team.. © INRA, Inra, Ch Maître
Jean-Marie Trommenschlager, winner of the 2014 Research Support Award, and his team. © INRA, Inra, Ch Maître

And INRA?

“I wake up every day as enthusiastic as the last. I love being the point of exchange between researchers and what’s happening in the field. Being autonomous yet able to interact extensively with my colleagues is great. I really appreciate the opportunities we have been given to grow, to shift gears, and to change the Unit’s research focus. I like to reflect on my own work and to learn without being bound to a single discipline. I enjoy supporting the Unit’s collective work and INRA’s work as a whole.”

Mini CV

  • Married, 2 children
  • 1976: arrival at the Mirecourt Experimental Unit as a livestock technician
  • 1986: 2-year degree in animal production
  • 1987: research technician
  • 1994: assistant engineer, ASTER-Mirecourt Research Unit

Awards

  • 2014 INRA Research Support Award