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Scientific & cultural excursion No. 3

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Hauts de France / Picardie

OVERVIEW of the Region



Picardie represents one part of the new French administrative region named in 2016 « Hauts de France ».  The region « Haut de France, Nord Pas de Calais Picardie » is located in North of France between Paris, Belgium and Great Britain (on the opposite side of the Channel). This is the 4th economic region of France and is internationally oriented. Industries (steel, chemicals, cars, cosmetics…) dominate, but the agriculture, fishing and food industries take up a very high level. The agriculture concerns milk breeding, most major crops as cereals, sugar beet, potatoes vegetables (first region for wheat, beets, potatoes, and canned vegetables), and some specific crops such as chicory.

Source Wikipedia



About potatoes



5800 growers produce 62% of the French potato production. It represents 12% of European production of ware potatoes (fresh market and processing), on 76 000 ha. The potato starch production is 782 000t on 14000 ha. The seed potatoes are grown on 7420 ha for a production of 238 000t (40% of the French production). The yield of ware potatoes is around 50 t/ha. The potato industry is also conducted by 28 packers for the fresh market, 7 processors (French fries, crips ….) and 1 for starch. For seed, 17 companies are involved in commercialization and the region owns the location of the head Office of the “Comité Nord Plant” with the station of Achicourt.

Picardie includes three departments: Aisne (02) Oise (60) and the Somme (80) with 20 small homogeneous regions (not stackable with the administrative regions). The name of departments is also the name of important rivers running through the region. This is an area with temperate oceanic climate (70 kilometers of coast), which becomes more continental in eastbound. Picardie has kept a very rural profile dominated 68% by agricultural land. The woodlands cover 18% of the region. The remaining 14% correspond to urban areas. 

Fertile soil and temperate climate strengthen its ability to produce with regularity. They are associated with the food industry but also non-food, with plants located throughout the country. Sugar beet, cereals, vegetables for processing and potatoes are the most highlighted.

Picardie indeed occupies all the leading French regions for beans, peas, spinach and salsify but endive for selling fresh onions and color. Potatoes, she is second in consumption and tubers first for those destined for the potato starch industry. It is firmly established in the first place for sugar beet with over a third of national production. It is the first French region for the production of corn and beans. She also finished on the podium for champagne (2nd) and peas (2nd).

Some key figures:

  • 29,000 permanent assets
  • 13,900 farms
  • 17,300 farmers and co-operators
  • 1.33 million hectares of agricultural land
  • 3.2 billion euros of turnover
  • Cattle is present in one farm on three
  • 25% of farms employ permanent employees, or 7,000 people, including 20% women
  • One farm on five is conducted by a woman. They represent 30% of family labor
  • 30% of heads of farms and co-operators are multi-asset
  • 80% of heads of farms and co-operators are under 40 years old
  • 10% of farmers practice diversification of activity : contract work, accommodation, catering …
  • 9% of farms (excluding wine) market at least one of their productions on short distribution circuit
  • 1% of farmers offer "organic" certification for at least one of the farm production

Agricultural research is very active through the principle of biorefinery for the valuation of the whole plant in the field of chemistry (lubricants, surfactants, cosmetics, intermediates ...), energy (ethanol, biodiesel ...) and materials (fibers, biopolymers, building materials, packaging ...).


The area is heavily marked by the battles of the First World War. 

Scientific visits

ARVALIS – Institut du végétal – Villers Saint Christophe Station




ARVALIS - Institut du vegetal is an applied agricultural research organisation (staff: 400) dedicated to arable crops: cereals, maize, sorghum, potatoes, fodder crops, flax and tobacco.
It was founded by farmers and dedicates its expertise to the creation of production systems that combine economic competiveness, adjusting to markets and protecting the environment. It considers technological innovation as a major tool to enable producers and agri-companies to respond to societal challenges. 
The Institute has effective means through 27 local sites in France, with a broad range of activities. It operates from the field scale to post-harvest stages and first processes. ARVALIS works in strong relations with breeders and inputs firms (seeds, nutrients and phytochemicals), as well as feed, food and non-food industries.

As an applied research institute, it interfaces with French and international basic research infrastructures such as INRA, IRSTEA, and Universities (collaborating through various research projects), and the development organisms such as Chambers of Agriculture and economic operators (co-ops…).

The Station of Villers Saint Christophe is dedicated to all the different main crops with a specific action on potato research. Each year an experimental field around 10 ha field is devoted to the crop in order to provide local strong references on many topics: soil compaction, fertilisation, varietal comportment, precision agriculture, water management, chemicals efficiency against a lot of bio-aggressors (Late Blight, early blight, rhizoctonia, silvers scurf …)….
The results obtained in these experiments are used to implement the Decision Support Systems developed by the Institute (Mileos, Irrelis …). 


The station owns also storage facilities to study the crop management during this important particular phase of production (sprout suppressants, CO2 concentration …).

The station is also well known nationally but also internationally by potato growers and professionals of the potato sector due to specific communication actions like the “Technical Rendez-vous of Villers Saint Christophe” but also the event PotatoEurope which is organised there each four years.  



PotatoEurope event in Villers Saint Christophe© ARVALIS ‒ Institut du végétal

POMLY: « from farm to fork »





Pomly is a family marketing structure located in Ham, at the convergence of three departments Somme, Oise and Aisne. 

Created in the early 2000s, it has undergone several changes and has just inaugurated its new packing center in November 2015.This one is equipped with the latest innovations in automation and optical sorting, allowing it to work annually a capacity of 25 to 30 000 tons with optimised staff. 

It aims to meet the highest standards of the profession and food-packaging.


Part references of the Company Pomly waiting in the refrigerated shipping hall

The company packs and markets only washed tubers for the fresh market with a very strong dominant of varieties "à chair ferme" mainly for the French market. Positioned on high-end products, it sells much of its many references (nets, cardboard boxes, wooden crates …) to wholesalers.

The tubers of the different marketed varieties (Celtiane, Charlotte, Galante, Jazzy, Marilyn ....) are produced entirely in irrigated fields by around fifteen local producers who store their whole production in refrigerated boxes buildings, to preserve the best as possible the quality throughout the storage period.

Pomly aims to place in operational practice the slogan "from farm to fork"  by stimulating its suppliers producers towards innovative technical procedures to meet the growing demand of its clients and their consumers who are increasingly concerned  by eating products from an agriculture limiting its environmental footprint through a limited use of chemical inputs and more environmentally friendly farming practices.

Cultural visit 




The “Historial” museum is located in Peronne, a small city along the Somme river, where nearby was launched the “Somme Battle” in 1916 during the first World War during which 442 000 soldiers died or disappeared. The idea of creating a museum devoted to the war of 1914-1918 originated with the Somme County Council in 1986.

The project was envisioned in the context of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, which involved combatants from more than twenty nations of the world. 

The museum was inaugurated on July 16 1992. The Corbusier-inspired architecture of white concrete designed by Henri-Edouard Ciriani is subtly built onto the brick château through which visitors enter. The Historial of the Great War Musuem was selected among the twenty ‘Major Cultural Projects in France’ of the time for the quality of its architecture.

This recent trilingual (English, French, German) museum is neither a memorial nor a military museum but a cultural museum which seeks to show how the lives of combatants and civilians were drastically modified by the war.

Located on the very site of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and the Battle of Picardie in 1918, the Historial of the Great War Musuem attempts to provide keys for understanding these events in all their dimensions and in so doing, to encourage reflection on the consequences of these battles, and the material traces which survive today.

The interior architecture and the museography chosen for the five main rooms simultaneously illustrate life on the front and on the home front.

The weapons and military gear are displayed in the centre of the rooms: placed in shallow pits on the floor, the common suffering of the combatants is emphasized. 

The civilians, who were equally mobilized by the war effort, are evoked in the show cases, divided into three levels, devoted respectively to Germany, France, and Great Britain.

The Historial offers an international view of a conflict that was the first to involve so many civilian populations. The presentation of the collection, more orientated towards social than military history, is centred on the individual's experience. It encourages constant comparisons among the different belligerent countries while making a clear distinction between life on the front and on the home front.

Along the walls of the exhibition spaces, three-tiered wall cases are devoted to the civil populations of France, Germany and Great Britain. Reflecting the attitudes and mentalities of the different belligerents, this presentation allows a comparative reading of objects from everyday life, imbued at once with patriotic faith and with the omnipresence of death. The centre of the rooms is devoted to life on the front, the central focus of warring peoples. The soldiers of different nationalities are represented by mannequins dressed in their uniforms, with their weapons and personal belongings. These bodies, lying in pits of white marble embedded in the museum floor, evoke the trenches that crisscrossed the entire area of the Somme, but also the shared suffering of the combatants. The display system of the pits also serves to bring out the extraordinary resourcefulness of these men on the front. Objects linked to the handicrafts of the trenches - musical instruments or decorative items made from weapons parts - rise up from the pits, marking a desperate attempt to preserve individual identity in the face of the anonymity of the uniform and of death.

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