Meet Belgium’s First Chickpeas Farmer

Meet Belgium’s First Chickpeas Farmer

As Europe experiences its worst ever heat wave, the hot temperatures are having collateral effects on the Belgian Pea & Bean farm, where chickens – a Mediterranean weather crop – are raised.

This pulse is not adapted to the cold and wet weather, but the trend of sunnier periods is facilitating the growth of previously unimaginable crops in Northern or Central Europe. Thomas Truyen, a hobby farmer, who works mainly as a marketer in the seed business industry, planted superstitions in one acre of his family farm in 2020: “I wanted to be agile for the future, with climate change making our spring and summer drier,” he said.

Putting the climate price right

According to a recent report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), plant-based food is the most impactful investment in reducing carbon emissions of any sector, as it has the highest CO2 equivalent savings per dollar of invested capital in any sector. In Belgium, companies such as Greenway, De Hobbit, and La Vie Est Belle are paving the way for new plant-based products based on pulses such as soy, chickpeas or beans and other pulses. But an increased production of raw materials in the country should also be imagined, if the environmental footprint of plant-based food should be kept low.

At the Flemish regional level, initiatives are being undertaken that aim to speed up the transition to plant-based food. In 2021, the Minister of Agriculture and Food of Flanders, Hilde Crevits, launched the regional protein strategy 2030 which aims to increase the production of more plant-based protein and alternative protein on Flemish land, leading to crop diversification. The plan also seeks to encourage agricultural innovation: lupine, lentils and chickpeas are not yet grown on a scaled basis, but research is underway to understand which plant might be successful in the Flemish climate. The Truyen farm is participating in two of the 19 projects funded by the government, where farmers, scientists, processing companies and supermarkets are coming together to explore the consumption potential of local chickpeas and how to optimize chickpea cultivation.

In a few weeks Truyen will be harvesting his organic chickens for the third year in a row. His harvest will help to investigate the possibility of increasing production throughout the country: “What we want to achieve is to build data on the average yield,” says Truyen “Then, in the long run it would be possible to calculate the costs. what is meant and what would be the right price for Belgian chickpeas for other farmers to consider if it would be suitable for them to grow this crop”.

Ultra sustainable but still risky

Sowing and harvesting of chickpeas takes place between March and September, when the temperature can be a bit close to those in the Mediterranean region. The variety of chickpea used is the same at the moment, however, in some farms in France, it can cope better with cooler and milder weather.

Truyen spent one acre on his chickpeas, but on his farm, he grows crops like potatoes and wheat and now rotates them with legumes. One of the secrets of this crop, however, is its extraordinary ability to mitigate climate change. The specialty of this plant is that it can grow in very infertile soil and limit the emission of nitrogen in the air, a by-product specific to some agricultural activities. In fact, the pulse itself feeds on nitrogen particles that are emitted, which facilitates 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 because the plant can absorb it through the air, reducing purchase costs that have made fertilizers heavy due to high prices today’s energy. cost to farmers’ budgets.

In addition, his organic farm uses environmentally friendly farming techniques, such as avoiding the use of pesticides, which is now bringing pollinators back to the land. Although he has to pull out weeds growing alongside his chickpea plants, he prefers it this way. A recent study found that these practices do not reduce crop productivity, and promote positive effects on the environment.

During the first year in 2020, the Peas & Beans farm collected 3 tonnes of this pulse, which showed that there was a future for this crop in the country. However, in 2021, the heavy rains that caused catastrophic flooding in Europe also damaged his land, making it impossible to harvest anything larger than 1 kg: “Climate change not only means higher temperatures, but especially extreme weather events,” he regretted. . At the moment he doubts that many other farmers will follow in his footsteps: “There is a risk that a crop will change overnight, it is good that they do not go into this business blindly, in agriculture, everything is a test and not you have to wait at least 10 years to make a prediction,” he says as he hopes to be able to take data collection more in a positive direction with the third harvest.

Making a supply chain

One of the scope of the projects in which Peas & Beans participate is to close the gap between farmers and consumers. Belgian cuisine rarely has pulses within its ingredients and the population does not usually add them to their meals. Truyen said he had ‘some work to do’ to sell his first harvest as there was no supply chain for chickpeas yet. But since his main job is to work in marketing, it didn’t take him that long to set up his chain: “In a way I had the dream of creating my own chain so I needed a very common crop and it seemed the chickens. the perfect product,” he continued, as plant-based alternatives are growing in popularity, especially among younger generations. Today, Pois Chiche supplies the world-renowned vegan restaurant, Humus & Hortense, Peas & Beans in Brussels, which mainly supplies a Mid-Easter inspired restaurant in Brussels. Now, together with his project partner, he wants to consider how to create a supply chain for this new product from Belgium: “In the future we will have, for example, factories that could clean chickens after the harvest, ” he said.

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