From mixed cultivation to collaboration

How can we close circuits is one of the questions in bio. Cooperation can be a solution to this. For the DiverIMPACTS project, BioForum visited Biopolder, which grows livestock feed locally.

No more organic soy from abroad, the crisis in Ukraine, the corona – more and more livestock farmers are looking for local feed and starting local collaborations with organic field farmers. It has to be that way. Only: Due to the high land prices, higher wages, smaller scale and strict environmental legislation, growing animal feed at international prices is often not profitable for the field farmers. Organic farmer Benjamin Simons from Biopolder was looking for a solution to this.

Photos: Sophie Nuytten

In 2016, they began converting their 350 acres of land to organic. The size of their business and their different soil types (from sand to clay) allowed them to experiment a lot. It quickly became apparent that the protein content of their organic grains was not bakeable. With a yield of about 5 tons per. hectares at animal feed prices, this was not a profitable crop and they decided to focus on mixed crops. Barley / lupine mixed cultivation turned out to be a very difficult crop, they achieved only 2 tons per. Field beans / wheat cultivation, on the other hand, were very promising.

With winter cultivation of horse bean wheat, they achieved an average yield of 6.5 tons of dry matter per hectare in 2019, with peaks of up to 11 tons / hectare on some plots, and with a ratio of about half field beans and half wheat. In addition, analyzes showed that the protein content of wheat was also much higher than in pure wheat cultivation. Biopolder is not the only one to find out, tests from the Louis Bolk Institute also show that the protein percentage of horse beans is 1.5 to 3% higher due to the nitrogen binding ability of horse beans.

After some optimization, their 10-year cultivation plan looks like this: potatoes, clover grass, pumpkin, winter barley, winter wheat / beans, potatoes, green beans, half fodder beet and half corn, winter barley and winter wheat / field beans. In the crop rotation of 10 years there are therefore twice winter field beans with winter wheat; good for about 70 acres a year. The most popular variety combination is Tundra beans with Moschus Wheat. In the spring, they fertilize 200 kg / ha of organic granules and then a light application of manure. The seed drill is adapted so that beans are sown 10 centimeters deep in the ground. Despite the possibilities of this cultivation, there are still many challenges, including thistle, bindweed, melded, herik, wall and planting the crop. Biopolder is therefore constantly looking for optimization by experimenting with other varieties and sowing times.

Search sales
Looking for a market for this mixed crop was initially not so obvious for Biopolder, as livestock farmers and compound feed producers balance the feed quite precisely in terms of protein and energy and therefore prefer to work with pure products. Separating mixed crops therefore seemed more interesting. In addition, the prices of the dry separated products are higher and the baking quality of the wheat appears to be high enough for consumption. The straw can also be sold. But close to Antwerp, it was not easy to find someone who could carry out the biological drying and separation of this mixed crop for contract work. Therefore, they have themselves invested in a drying and separation installation.

Benjamin harvests the mixture when the wheat is ripe, the beans then still have a moisture content of about 18 to 20%. In the dryer with a capacity of 30 tons / hour, the grain reaches a temperature of 45 ° C and is then cooled again. The drum lesion then separates the mixture into 3 fractions: husks and weeds, beans and wheat. The field bean fraction is generally very pure. The wheat sometimes still contains small horse beans and broken horse beans, so this is sifted again, although these bean residues can also be interesting to increase the baking quality.

The sale takes place almost exclusively through direct contact with livestock farmers. This removes the margins of the feed producer, and very important: it builds a whole network of contacts with other organic farmers. Benjamin also sold fodder beets, dorma corn, grass clover and straw. Wim Govaerts initiated a series of contacts, and through these farmers a few more were added.

Biopolder makes agreements with livestock farmers around the time of sowing. The price per. tons of product is often agreed at that time. They negotiate based on current animal feed prices and Benjamin’s costs. Last summer, the market price had risen somewhat, but the price was kept as agreed. Now there is more uncertainty due to the fluctuations in the prices of diesel, gas and construction work. Drying and sieving make it a high quality product and most customers return the following year. This brings peace and security to Biopolder. In the BioForum brochure on collaboration, you will find a lot of tips for starting and maintaining such collaborations and what they can mean for you.

Mixed cultivation is an interesting track
It thus seems that this cultivation of winter wheat and horse beans can mean a lot to both livestock farmers and field farmers. As a result, livestock farmers are less dependent on the volatile market, have more security and can feed their animals more locally. Arable farmers can achieve a higher balance by increasing the baking quality and drying and separating afterwards. Combined with an eco-scheme, it can also become economically interesting for field farmers to grow local cattle feed in this way.

One requirement is the possibility of biological drying and separation, which is not a matter of course in Flanders. BioForum’s Postharvest project is therefore trying to meet the need for infrastructure for cereals and protein crops.

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Source: BioForum

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