06 October 2015

WALLOON CEREALS: A MAJOR CROP WHICH IS DEVELOPING CONTINUOUSLY

Fields sown with cereals make up more than half the arable land in Wallonia. With some of the world’s highest yields, these crops offer the region various options for both food and non-food uses.

WALLOON CEREALS: A MAJOR CROP WHICH IS DEVELOPING CONTINUOUSLY

Covering about 60% of Wallonia’s arable land, cereals are the subject of various lines of research ranging from production to utilisation. The ALT4CER project, conducted by CRA-W since 2011, has established that 14% of the grain produced in Wallonia is consumed on the farm itself and 17% is exported abroad. On the Belgian market, 45% of the grain goes to the animal feed industry and barely 11% is processed into human food. Whereas the starch industry processes 19% of the grain into various food products (starch, gluten, glucose, etc.) and non-food products (chemicals, cosmetics, etc.), the fastest-growing sector is the biofuel industry, which converted 25% of Wallonia’s grain (including 27% of its wheat) into bioethanol and various co-products for food use in 2010.

LCA studies carried out by CRA-W have shown that, thanks to our very high yield and excellent control of cultural practices, Wallonia’s cereals generally have a smaller environmental impact than the European averages with which they are compared.

Again due to the high level of control and associated yield (8.5 t fresh matter per ha in conventional farming as against 4.5 in organic), from an environmental point of view, organic winter wheat has an equivalent impact or even, in the case of some impact categories, a higher impact than conventional winter wheat. On this point, the BioGeoCarbo project has demonstrated the importance of correct organic fertilisation management in organic production systems. In some impact categories, the emissions from this type of fertilisation contribute significantly to the overall environmental impact (67% to global warming, 93% to soil acidification).

The LCA is therefore an essential tool for assessing the conditions of the transition from conventional agriculture to ecologically intensive agriculture, in that it gives farmers scientific bases to back up the perceived benefits of the reduced tillage practices and lower input levels thus made possible.