Carbon farming to improve the soil

What potential does carbon farming offer to ensure healthier soil and reduce the Belgian farming sector’s impact on the climate? Colruyt Group is conducting research to find out, together with its livestock partners. “We are constantly learning,” is the resounding conclusion.

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Published on 22/05/2024

What is carbon farming?

In carbon farming, carbon is extracted from the air and stored in the soil. The approach involves several innovative techniques. The benefit of carbon farming is twofold.

  • Healthier soil: sufficient organic carbon makes the soil more resistant to erosion, improves water management and promotes fertility. Carbon-rich soil also has greater protection against drought or flooding.
  • Less impact on the climate: CO2 is a major greenhouse gas that carbon farming removes from the air. The approach also results in less CO2 entering the atmosphere from the soil.

Why is Colruyt Group focusing on carbon farming?

Colruyt Group wants to support the Belgian farming sector and help it become more sustainable in the long term. Active soil management is an important part of this endeavour, but the incentives are sometimes lacking. “We want to ignite that ‘spark’,” says Geert Hanssens, expert in agriculture at Colruyt Group. “We help look for innovation solutions, techniques and crop rotations that add value.”

Wood chips from pollard willows as bedding at cattle farmers Sandra Patyn and Frederik Van Sompel in Sleidinge Livestock farmers Sandra Partyn and Frederik Van de Sompel use coppice wood as bedding. Shredded wood has a beneficial effect on COstorage.
The carbon farming project is a joint effort from Colruyt Group, Vlaams Hoeverund and Inagro The carbon farming project is a joint effort from Colruyt Group, Vlaams Hoeverund and Inagro.

How do we research carbon farming with our partners?

Several carbon farming pilot projects are being carried out. They are all collaborations between Colruyt Group, the Vlaams Hoeverund cooperative and Inagro.

  • Colruyt Group’s role is to encourage and advise. We provide financial support to make it accessible.
  • Vlaams Hoeverund conducts the pilot projects on the ground.
  • Inagro supervises the projects in its capacity as an independent expert.

In the pilot projects, farmers themselves experiment with alternative crops, crop rotations, combinations of crops and techniques to store carbon in the soil. It is a matter of trial and error, trying and trying again.

Luc Poppe from Vlaams Hoeverund
This venture is literally taking place in the field. We are constantly learning and updating our knowledge. And it is good to know that we are not alone in our ambition.

Expansion to include regenerative farming

In the near future, we are expanding the carbon farming project to include regenerative farming. This involves mapping the overall health of the soil. Besides carbon content, we examine soil cultivation, mixing cultures, limiting fertiliser and grazing livestock in fields. The objective? To guarantee at least the same yield with significantly fewer resources.

Ardooie farmer Johan Pattyn at work on his agroforestry meadow screen with 500 trees 500 planted trees at farmer Johan Pattyn in Ardooie should capture carbon above and below ground.
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