07 June 2021

Durum wheat, an opportunity to diversify our major crops?

Changes in the climate (fewer cold winters, spring and summer droughts) provide an opportunity for Walloon farmers to diversify their production by turning to new crops.

Durum wheat (Triticum turgidum L. subsp. Durum) is a case in point. This small grain cereal is mainly grown in the hot, dry regions around the Mediterranean, and is used for the production of semolina, pasta, bulgur and biscuits. 90% of European durum wheat is produced in Italy, France, Spain and Greece, amounting to 7,750,000 tonnes in 2019, but it is also grown in more northern regions such as Canada and Russia. Durum wheat can be both a winter and a spring crop.                                                                                                                          

Since 2018, the CRA-W has been developing exploratory trials to determine whether there is a place for durum wheat in the Wallonia crop rotation.

In practical terms, the CRA-W has tested more than 24 varieties in 5 trials. Approximately fifty farmer's fields are also being monitored.                                                                                                           

Although there are a few differences, the cultivation method is very similar as soft wheat, which typically has a high protein content.

During the two growing seasons, the maximum yields obtained reached 10 tonnes/hectare or more. Strong differences between varieties have also been observed, with the varieties from France providing the best yields. Because some sections of the trials were fungicide free, results concerning the resistance to fungal diseases are also available for the different varieties. Unsurprisingly, the performance of the "spring" trials proves poorer than the winter seedlings. Damage caused by the cold remains a crucial criterion in the development of cultivation in Belgium, and the few observations made show that the varietal diversity encountered may provide an answer to this problem. The varieties originating in Eastern Europe were found to be highly tolerant of the cold spell of February 2021.

The technological criteria used to assess the quality of the grains and their suitability for processing into pasta were also analysed, with satisfactory results.

This crop therefore seems promising. Due to the existing varietal diversity, consideration can be given to the integration of this crop into our rotations, whilst also providing interesting material for a selection adapted to Belgium.

These encouraging results provide a basis for new trials whose purpose will be to 1) extend varietal screening, 2) cover all pedoclimatic conditions and production systems (e.g.: organic farming) and 3) improve crop management by setting up specific phytotechnical trials in connection with the quality criteria sought for their exploitation as food for human consumption.