Walloon cereals are currently used mainly for animal feed (45%). For example, due to small field sizes, climate conditions and insufficient financial rewards for meeting food quality standards, virtually all Walloon wheat is used for fodder purposes. Wallonia produces less than 10% of its cereal needs for human consumption; the remainder is covered by imports. If the current model continues, Wallonia will no longer produce any cereals for human consumption by 2030.
The four-year ALT-4-CER project began at CRA-W in March 2011. It consisted of several different parts, aiming to (i) survey current uses of Walloon cereals and describe original scenarios showing possible developments in those uses and (ii) use life-cycle analysis (LCA) to evaluate the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the production and processing of Walloon cereals on the basis of the production chains identified in the first part of the project.
Of the cereals grown in Wallonia, wheat alone accounts for more than a third of the cultivated area. The trend over the last 15 years has been for the area of land sown with wheat to continue growing to the detriment of other cereals such as six-row barley or spelt, indicating the occurrence of specialisation among Walloon cereal producers.
More than a quarter (27%) of Walloon wheat is processed by the bioethanol industry. The latter also produces distillers’ grains and gluten for animal feed, which in part compensates for the use of this feed wheat for energy rather than nutrition. However, our study shows that it would be more appropriate for bioenergy production to favour the use of inputs that cannot be used directly in animal feed.
The environmental impacts of Walloon cereal production are lower than the European average. This is partly due to the very high yields obtained in Wallonia, indicating a high level of expertise in these crops. It has also been observed that the crops with the least impact per kg of product are also those with the least impact per hectare grown and per euro of gross margin. These crops are therefore the most eco-efficient, offering production at a competitive price while minimising environmental impact. In the case of Walloon cereals, this applies to – unsurprisingly – wheat, but also spelt.
The results of the socio-economic analysis showed that farmers with no specific agricultural training can generate as much added value as more highly qualified farmers.
In Wallonia, among the primary cereal processing sectors, the animal feed sector accounts for the largest number of jobs per 1,000 tonnes of cereal input, but its employees have the longest work commute distance.
The commodities trading sector trains its employees more extensively but also involves more part-time work.
The ALT-4-CER project has enabled the CRA-W to establish itself as Wallonia’s centre of expertise for environmental and socio-economic LCAs of agricultural products. Links have been formed with the other LCA projects conducted at the CRA-W (BioGeoCarbo, QUALAITER, INOVABIOM, DECiDE, Empreinte Eau) in order to consolidate the experience gained. Activities planned for the future (via a Moerman post-doctorate) include extending LCA expertise to the other main Walloon crops, taking account of the impact in terms of crop rotation and drawing comparisons between different production systems (such as ecologically intensive and organic agriculture), in order to guide the actors (producers and decision-makers) in their choices towards more sustainable agricultural products.
Funding: CRA-W Moerman Fund