Case study 4: Belgium: Service crops valorized through grazing

Cluster 1: Service crops

The case study focuses on cash crops grazed through innovative win-win partnership between two professional categories, which previously did not have any relationships: sheep farmers and arable farmers.

For sheep farmers, it is an opportunity to support the development of sheep production with a new, quality forage. For arable farmers, the practice could have numerous advantages, including improved soil fertility, reduced pressure from pests, non-mechanical destruction of cash crops, incorporation of organic matter, and a better image of arable farmers.

The case study is now being expanded to also incorporate grazing in beets, rape and cereals.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
Initially, in 2015, grazing of cash crops was an emerging practice in Wallonia, which was only implemented by a few mixed arable and sheep producers. These farmers asked themselves and advisory bodies about the agronomic potential of the practice, following some contacts with and visits to Aube, France where mixed arable/sheep producers pioneered this practice.

Following these reflections, a student study was produced in collaboration with the farmers, Collège des Producteurs, and CRA-W to characterize the added value that sheep grazing on cover crops has for soil fertility. The first results highlight 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, for example regarding the agro-economic interest for arable producers, economic performance for sheep producers linked to cover crop composition, potential of cover crop destruction, and environmental performance.

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
58 % of Wallonia is a nitrate-vulnerable area, with mandatory cover crops on arable lands. Often, walloon sheep farmers are not arable farmers and vice versa. So, to develop diversification at a territorial scale, the case study (CS) focuses on win-win partnerships between sheep farmers and arable farmers.

Most of the relevant stakeholders are now involved in the CS:

  • The collective of sheep producers and arable crop producers: we rely on the collective to help disseminate information.
  • Mixed arable and sheep producers whose own sheep graze their crops
  • Advisory bodies: Greenotec (conservation agriculture), Protect’eau (water protection), Fourrages Mieux (forage management), Eleveo (ovine advisor)
  • RWDR (rural development network)
  • Research bodies: CRA-W, UCL

Solution investigated
The CS did not have the means to deepen the scientific knowledge. Instead, the work of the case study focuses mainly on the development and popularization of the practice, as well as on the overall study of the strengths and constraints of the practice. This is how we determined that one of the major advantage of the practice for the arable farmer would be an improved image among citizens and that new legislative constraints have appeared with the development of this new practice in Wallonia.

Expected outcome
Our objective will be achieved once the ploughman asks to have sheep graze on his crops. The practice and the number of partnerships are constantly growing: from zero partnerships between sheep farmers and arable crop farmers in Wallonia before the CS was implemented to 30 partnerships now, and no “divorces”.

The CS has raised awareness of the practice in the agricultural sector and secured funding for a first 2-year research project (started in July 2019) that will further explore the question of the interest in the practice by arable crop farmers.

In addition to the agronomic, economic, environmental and social advantages of the practice, sheep grazing of cover crops contributes to arable farmers having a positive image of cover crops: from a crop seen as mandatory and imposed to a crop seen as an opportunity within the agricultural rotation.

Today, a large part of the Walloon cover crops are mono-species (often with mustard). As sheep grazing requires the establishment of multi-species cover crops, the practice will lead to more diverse cover crops.

Reflections on sheep grazing of other crops (beets, rapes, cereals) started at the end of 2018, and have lead to new perspectives such as new partnerships and probably the discovery of unknown advantages of sheep grazing for crops.

Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals?
CS4 contributes to the development of diversification at the territorial level. It promotes a sustainable practice for both arable farmers and sheep farmers.

Further information

Links

Contact

  • Christel Daniaux, Collège des Producteurs, case study leader
  • Cyril Regibeau, Collège des Producteurs, case study co-leader
  • Daniel Jamar, CRA-W, case study monitor