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Meet Belgium’s first chickpea farmer

As Europe experiences its worst heatwave ever, high temperatures are having beneficial side effects on Belgian farm Peas & Beanswhere chickpeas are grown – a Mediterranean crop -.

This pulse is not adapted to cold and wet weather, but the trend towards sunnier periods makes it easier to grow crops that were previously unthinkable to harvest in Northern or Central Europe. Thomas Truyen, a hobby farmer who works primarily as a marketer in the seed business, planted chickpeas on just one acre of his family farm in 2020: “I wanted to be agile for the future, as climate change makes spring and summer drier,” he said.

Setting the correct climate value

According to a recent report of Boston Consulting Group (BCG), plant food is the highest carbon impact investment of any sector, as it has the highest CO2 equivalent savings per dollar of capital invested of any sector. In Belgium, companies such as e.g Greenway, De Hobbitand Life is beautiful they pave the way for new plant-based products based on legumes such as soy, chickpeas or other beans and legumes. But an increased production of raw materials in the country should be foreseen if the environmental footprint of plant foods is to be kept low.

At the Flemish regional level, initiatives aimed at accelerating the shift towards plant-based food are being undertaken. In 2021, the Flemish Minister of Agriculture and Food Hilde Crevits launched a regional protein strategy 2030 with the aim of increasing the production of more vegetable and alternative proteins in Flemish land, leading to crop diversification. Plan is looking for as well as to encourage agricultural innovation: lupine, lentils and chickpeas are not yet grown at scale, but research to understand which plant could potentially thrive in the Flemish climate is ongoing. Truyen’s farm participates in two of the 19 projects sponsored by the government, where farmers, scientists, processing companies and supermarkets join forces to explore the potential of local chickpea consumption and how to optimize chickpea cultivation.

In a few weeks Truyen is going to harvest his organic chickpeas for the third year in a row. Harvesting it will further help to investigate the possibility of scaling up production across the country: “What we want to achieve is to generate data on the average yield,” says Truyen “Then, in the long term it would be possible to calculate the cost involved and what would be the right price for Belgian chickpeas for other farmers to consider if it would suit them to grow this crop.’

Extremely viable but still dangerous

Chickpeas are sown and harvested between March and September, when temperatures can slightly approach those of the Mediterranean region. The chickpea variety used is, however, the same one used today on some farms in France, which can cope better with the cooler and milder weather.

Trujen dedicated an acre to his chickpeas, while on his farm he grows crops such as potatoes and wheat which he now alternates with the chickpeas. One of the secrets of this crop, however, is its extraordinary ability to mitigate climate change. The peculiarity of this plant is that it can grow in very fertile soil while limiting nitrogen emissions into the air, a by-product specific to certain agricultural activities. In fact, the pulse is fueled by emitted nitrogen particles, facilitating the reduction of this gas in the atmosphere.

Nitrogen is a substance that can also be found in fertilizers, which farmers do not need to use as the plant can absorb it through the air, reducing the purchase cost which, due to today’s high energy prices, has made fertilizers it’s heavy. spending on farmers’ budgets.

In addition, his organic farm uses nature-friendly farming techniques, such as avoiding the use of pesticides, which now brings pollinators back to its land. Although he has to pull the weeds growing side by side with his chickpeas himself, he prefers it this way. A recent study were found that these practices do not reduce crop productivity while encouraging positive effects on the environment.

During its first year in 2020, the Peas & Beans farm harvested 3 tons of this pulse, showing that there was a future for this crop in the country. In 2021, however, the heavy rains that caused devastating floods in Europe also destroyed his land, making it impossible to harvest more than 1 kg: “Climate change does not only mean higher temperatures, but especially extreme weather events,” he lamented. of. . At the moment he doubts that many other farmers will follow in his footsteps: “Changing crops overnight is dangerous, it’s good not to be blind in this business, in agriculture, everything is trial and you have to wait at least 10 years to make predictions,” he says hoping that with his third harvest he will be able to further build the data collection in a positive direction.

The creation of a supply chain

One of the areas of projects that Peas & Beans is involved in is bridging the gap between farmers and consumers. Belgian cuisine rarely has legumes in its ingredients and its population is not used to adding them to their meals. Truyen said he “had some work to do” in order to sell his first crop as there was no chickpea supply chain yet. But since his main job is marketing, it didn’t take him that long to set up his chain: “Somehow I had the dream of setting up my own chain and so I needed a very popular crop and chickpeas it seemed to be the perfect product,” she continued, as the popularity of plant-based alternatives is growing especially among younger generations. Today, it mainly supplies the Brussels-based Easter-inspired restaurant Pois Chicheand the world-renowned vegan restaurant Hummus & Hortense, Peas & Beans also supply bulk groceries. Now, together with his project partner, he is trying to think about how to create a supply chain for this new potential Belgian product: “In the future we will need, for example, factories that could clean chickpeas after harvest,” write down.

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