This case study is not about a single farmer but about a group of farmers who want to win back some sovereignty over food. This group is part of a local organisation called GRAPEA in the Vendée region (in the west of France).
Let’s reintroduce biodiversity to French crops and put legumes under the spotlight
Three people in particular lead the funding of the project described below: Antoine, Nicolas and Sébastien (even though lots of other farmers have taken part). The 3 of them are dairy breeders using a pasture system. They are already very self-sufficient and use inputs sparingly. They are certified organic (or in transition) themselves, but also want conventional farmers to join their initiative and become self-sufficient in animal feed.
Description of the agro-ecological practice
Initially the farmers’ group got together to work on animal feed self-sufficiency and pasture management. These farmers, who used a pasture system, were already very self-sufficient through using pasture and fodder. But they still needed to:
- Become self-sufficient for winter feed
- Become better at cultivating and improving the protein crops within the feed
So they embarked on 2 strands of work:
- Experimenting with different approaches to crop rotation, exchanging ideas through a local working group
- Enhancing the protein crops by investing in a tool called a “toaster”. This toaster, by roasting the grains, enables the animals to better digest the protein crops produced on their farms.
The environmental benefits of such an approach are multiple:
- Diversity of crop rotation and the introduction of easily-cultivated pesticide-free legumes that naturally feed the soil
- Reduction of GM feed imports
- And most importantly: a change of mindset for the farmers, abandoning a production-maximisation approach to dairy, and instead producing less but better with lower costs!
Another benefit of this approach is that it’s also a way of reaching a broader audience of farmers, as it can be used to start changing the mindset of conventional farmers towards the production-maximising approach. Consequently, the following case study only focuses on the second strand of work: the toaster as a way of contributing to a change of mindset.
Technical information on this agro-ecological practice
Specifically, the toaster is a piece of mobile equipment that can be moved from one farm to another.
A burner warms air to around 280°C. The grain passes continuously on a conveyor belt, propelled by a worm drive, where it is heated for 20 to 60 seconds to 120°C. The grain then goes through a ‘maturation’ phase (100°C) during which the roasting is completed and water is expelled. The grain is then ventilated at the end of the process to dry and cool it. The roasting of the grain stops proteins being lost through bacteria in the rumen. These proteins can therefore transit to the intestine where they are assimilated (doubling or trebling the energy value of the feed). What’s more, this process also eliminates other factors that inhibit nutrition. The toaster uses carbon fuel at present but could be powered by biogas in the future.
Economical information on this practice
The results of the first trials are as follows:
The investment cost €125,000 excluding taxes. The cost of toasting has been estimated by FDCUMA85 (another local organisation) as between 4 and 7 Euro cents per kilo (excluding subsidies or the costs of sorting the grain). Based on this data, the technique seems financially sustainable. And the results of other trials they conducted also confirm this.
Now that the method has been launched, they just have to find some more farmers to reduce the toasting cost. With a current volume commitment of around 300 tons per year, the estimated cost price is €71 per ton (excluding the cost of someone to manage the toaster itself). If 1,000 tons per year were toasted, this cost would fall to €40 per ton, or €54 per ton including an employee to run everything.