The implementation of service crops gives an opportunity to support the development of sheep production and valorization in the Walloon area through innovative win-win contract schemes between sheep breeders and cash crop producers. This practice has the potential to reduce deep soil compaction and to improve soil homogeneity, without an impact on nutrient bioavailability for the next crop.
What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the CS?
Reflections about the potentialities to valorize cover crops through sheep grazing emerged following some contacts in and visits to France two years ago in the mind of three mixed farmers producing cash crops and sheep.
The first one questioned weed dynamics, soil fertility, and compaction on the one side and dry and/or pregnant ewe management in open-air systems during winter on the other side. The second one, working under a reduced tillage regime, looked for alternatives to reduce herbicide use in order to destroy cover crops. The third one is interested in forage production through cover crops and by the outcomes of these on farm trials.
How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
A study was produced by the collaboration of the farmers, SoCoPro, and CRA-W to characterize the impact of cover crops' valorization by sheep on soil fertility. The first results underline the interest and suitability of this practice to reduce deep soil compaction and to improve soil homogeneity without an impact on nutrient bioavailability for the next crop. Nevertheless, several questions remain between sheep breeders and cash crop producers regarding the agro-economic interest for cash crop producers, the economic performance for sheep breeders linked to cover crop composition, the potential for reduced tillage, the environmental performances, and the definition of contract schemes.
For SoCoPro, the implementation of service crops gives an opportunity to support the development of sheep production and valorization in the Walloon area with a cover cropping surface availability linked to the large occurrence of nitrate-vulnerable areas (58% of Wallonia) in the context of the surfaces of ecological interest. Through an innovative win-win contract scheme between sheep breeders and cash crop producers, sheep breeders would be able to develop their herds through additional surface valorization.
Today, the interactions were based on the end of the study work, the discussion of the results with breeders (groups of farmers exchanging, in the long term, the management and performances of their systems), and the presentation of this alternative to the Regional Agricultural Ministry.
Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals?
DiverIMPACTS may enhance the objectification of agrotechnical, economic and environmental performances of this cover crops management scheme, leading to a definition of win-win contractualisation schemes to support diversification at a territorial scale. It will adopt this practice by allowing farmers to have both cash crops (and, therefore, cover crops) and sheep herds through strengthened communication.
Christel Daniaux, SoCoPro, case study leader