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The Farm, Phileo’s concrete response to future global challenges

Interview of Jean-Philippe Marden, Director of The Farm Phileo.

Jean-Philippe Marden, Doctor of animal nutrition, is taking over the management of The Phileo Farm after ten years as Head of R&D Ruminants. Within R&D, Dr Marden and his team made a major contribution to the design of The Farm, with the aim of delivering high-performance, natural, innovative, total solutions based on cutting-edge research and tailored to field conditions.

Why did Phileo want to create The Farm?

The Farm is the first facility devoted specifically to Nutrition and Animal Health within the Lesaffre Group. It is one of the facilities designed to promote innovation, knowledge transfer and customer proximity in a fast-growing environment. It was set up in response to multiple needs, both internal and in association with external partners.

Our primary objective is to respond to market demand through innovation. The Farm is equipped with the latest-generation tools enabling us to gather together in a single location both the animals and the analytical and laboratory equipment needed in order to develop new solutions.

What will The Farm’s areas of work be?

The study of microbiota is one of our priorities. For example, the platform is equipped with in vitro Dual Flow systems which very closely imitate the rumen activity and even allow extrapolation to other species such as pigs, poultry and horses.
Regarding toxins in animal feed, we are devoting a laboratory equipped with UPLC (Ultra Performance Liquid Chromatography) to the detection of various mycotoxins, giving us the ability to measure our products’ effectiveness in controlling these contaminating agents.
In terms of the environment, we have designed a “breathing chamber” to measure animals’ emissions of greenhouse gases. The chamber is a completely sealed room with controlled ventilation flow and methane and carbon dioxide sensors.

We are also considering working on animal behaviour and welfare (in ruminants initially). As an example of an external partnership, we are developing a welfare programme with a French manufacturer of mattresses for cows in order to determine lying areas and to assess the frequency of rest periods, etc.

In other words, The Farm help us to accelerate the development of new products and also improve the time to market.
On the other hand, we want to promote knowledge sharing by communicating more about our advances but also with the aim of strengthening our partnerships with universities, institutes and customers.

The objective behind The Farm is to promote academic research in partnership with internationally renowned scientists in Europe and the United States, as well as in countries where animal science is gaining momentum, such as Brazil, India and China. We have already welcomed a Chinese PhD student working under an industrial agreement for training through research (CIFRE) in collaboration with the China Agricultural University (CAU) based in Beijing. Aside from this cooperative academic dimension, we are also aiming to make our ability to design and implement personalised solutions for our major clients.

Finally, The Farm is a showcase of our expertise and has the role of supporting our customers. This win-win proximity will give us a better idea of their future needs and offer them the privileges of The Farm’s network. We  invite them to seminars to discover the latest advances in research and technology, to see and confirm the benefits of our products, or to train in our techniques so they can benefit from them. The aim is to introduce and teach our methods while remaining close to the customer and the field.

How is The Farm currently organised?

The Farm is part of the “efficiency” division of R&D Phileo. It currently consists of Christine Julien, Head of R&D Ruminants, Virginie Marquis, Head of Toxicology and Safety, two animal technicians, and myself, the platform’s Director. Not forgetting our PhD student, who is responsible for specific procedures on animals, and whom we hope will soon be joined by other students, because the platform has been designed to evolve.

Why did you decide to base it at the PURPAN Engineering School?

PURPAN has a real dynamic presence in research. The Lamothe campus around thirty kilometres from Toulouse has its own 250-hectare mixed farm:
– 140 head of dairy cattle
– broiler chickens and laying hens
– plant production (corn, wheat, sunflowers).
Who are your partners in this project?
We have already partnered with the PURPAN Engineering School, the National Veterinary School of Toulouse, the Toulouse School of Agricultural and Life Sciences (ENSAT), the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), the Toulouse dairy research network, and the China Agricultural University in Beijing. And other bodies are interested as well (mainly in America), so the circle is set to expand!

What is The Farm’s mind-set in working with animals?

The solutions we are developing aim to provide animals with better welfare. Improvements in digestion, stress reduction, reducing aggressive behaviour between animals – the positive effects are clear. We also ensure good livestock management: suitable housing, appropriate temperatures, and so on.

Our work to find sustainable alternatives to antibiotics is also of benefit to animals. We are working to improve their health as well as that of consumers.

In the context of sustainable farming systems, we are targeting greater efficiency at the animal’s scale, while respecting its environment and protecting its welfare. In the end, this approach has the benefit of promoting farmers’ economic success. In short, a virtuous circle.

How would you define The Farm in a single sentence?

The Farm is a platform for knowledge transfer and scientific expertise to develop innovative solutions to meet the ethical, health and performance challenges facing the farming industry in the years to come.