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Reducing the carbon footprint of field crops while producing plant proteins

29 Jul 2022

How can we contribute to mitigating climate change by reducing greenhouse gases (GHG)? Terres Inovia is committed to supporting farmers in their efforts to achieve carbon neutrality. The institute spoke last June to share its current studies.

Although the agricultural sector emits GHGs, it also has room for maneuver to reduce emissions and store carbon in the soil, thus limiting residual emissions. Terres Inovia is involved in the drafting of the low-carbon label method for the field crop sector, and is helping to design the best strategies for changing systems.

Peas, faba beans, lentils, chickpeas, lupins, soybeans... these seed legumes are effective tools for reducing the carbon footprint of field crops, while boosting plant protein production. The technical institute plays a key role in implementing these two national priorities.
The inclusion of legumes in the rotation, a definite lever

Expectations and questions about the carbon issue are multiplying in the agricultural field. Terres Inovia has been asked for information (press, students, cooperatives) and during several interventions in 2021-2022, and recently in Angoulême.
In June 2022, Terres Inovia was invited to participate in a technical field day "Hyperprotein solutions" organized by the Chamber of Agriculture of Charentes (CA16), in Angoulême, at the Lycée Agricole de l'Oisellerie. Anne Schneider and Marisol Campoverde, Terres Inovia's researchers on the sustainability of systems and services provided by legumes, spoke on the topic "Producing proteins and reducing carbon impact".

The two Terres Inovia specialists reviewed the possible levers for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage in field crops. Among them is the introduction of legumes in the rotation, which has a stronger effect than adjustments in the dose or form of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. This insertion thus supports the increase in biomass returns to the soil, whether through crop residues, as in the case of rapeseed, or the increase in intermediate cover or grasslands, as well as the reduction in fossil fuel consumption, a less powerful lever in general.
Pulses: definite reductions

This presentation and the discussions that followed provided an opportunity to share the Institute's studies on the multi-performance of systems, with a comparison with or without seed legumes in different agricultural situations.

These contextualized case studies show emission reductions of up to 0.3t CO2e per ha per year in the Grand Est region with a pea or faba bean preceding wheat and a cover crop once every five years.

These results are consistent with those obtained by partner studies in the West, showing a reduction of up to 0.6 t of CO2e with pea or soybean or a reduction of 0.7 t of CO2 when soybean is inserted in the South-West (Arvalis results).

The combination of "the insertion of pea between two wheat crops already present induces an even more marked effect and increasing the cover crops present in the different intercrops can double the reduction in emissions to reach 1.2 t of CO2," says Anne Schneider.
Cross-referencing research and field data to assess the combination of levers

In addition to understanding the relative strength of levers in different contexts, Terres Inovia is working with other agricultural technical institutes and regional partners (national, regional and European projects) to assess the combination of levers on a farm in a given situation.

With the carbon diagnoses underway among farmers, which will provide a snapshot of their initial situation, it will be a matter of co-constructing the most relevant changes for each farmer's cropping system in order to combine mitigation levers with each other and with the other challenges of each situation.

For more information: see the Institute's work on climate change and low-carbon agriculture