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The Res'eau project engages Belgian farmers in preserving water quality through sustainable agricultural practices

Launched a year ago with a pilot project with 31 farmers in the Wallonia region of Belgium, it has demonstrated the involvement of agricultural producers in protecting the environment and will therefore be extended to other Walloon farmers.


Res'eau Project logo.

Water is an essential element for agricultural activity. The prolonged and repeated droughts that we have experienced in recent years have once again shown that the water more than deserves its nickname of blue gold. Farmers are aware of the need to protect this essential resource and implement many practices favorable to its preservation.

Water consumption in agriculture

The mild climate in the Wallonia region of Belgium makes our Walloon agriculture an activity that depends on a natural supply of water for production through the rains: irrigation is very marginal in this region. In terms of volume, agriculture extracts less than 1.5% of the 362.6 million m³ of groundwater through wells for agricultural use, which corresponds to 5.4 million m³ (source SPW). For an activity that manages more than 40% of the territory of the region, that is a pretty good result!

Constant attention to water quality

Like all human activities, agriculture has an impact on water quality. In Wallonia, for more than 20 years, there has been a constant collaboration between the agricultural sector and the water sector. Already in 1994, the establishment of a code of good agricultural practices brought to light a series of practices favorable to the preservation of water quality in the agricultural sector.

In 2001, the creation of the PGDA (Sustainable Nitrogen Management Program) introduced mandatory measures, which have since evolved according to needs in the course of successive program updates. Farmers apply them daily. They refer, for example, to the storage of livestock effluents and their application, as regards the preventive aspect.

Beyond these propagation practices, so-called "nitrate traps" (CIPAN) are also being installed in crops on a large scale on our farms. They capture the residual nitrate and release it again so that it is available for the next harvest. These CIPANs cover 90% of the affected surfaces in vulnerable areas.

The checks carried out each year on 5% of the farms in Wallonia show that the practices applied are effective and respected, the rules for the amount of residual nitrate being strictly controlled.

The use of phytosanitary products in agriculture is also strictly regulated, in particular with the aim of preventing them from ending up in surface or groundwater. The "water framework" and "pesticides" directives therefore establish a number of additional measures applied by farmers. Storage, handling, application, equipment used: all these aspects are framed in very strict rules that the farmers scrupulously respect and over which they are controlled.

 Beyond these mandatory measures, farmers also apply voluntary measures (agri-environmental and climate measures) that also aim to contribute positively to the preservation of water quality, as well as soil, to the strengthening of biodiversity ...

Through their daily practices and evolution, farmers demonstrate that they have fully realized their crucial role in preserving natural resources.

The net

The Res'eau project of the Public Water Management Company (SPGE) and the Agricultural Federation of Wallonia (FWA) was launched in September 2019. The objective of the Res'eau project is to support agricultural initiatives favorable to the protection of resources and thus reduce the possible risk of groundwater contamination that may be linked to certain practices.

Within the framework of Res'eau, the creation of a network of local farmer groups was initiated in order to highlight, share and disseminate the initiatives of these farmers in favor of water. The innovative practices discussed can be grouped into five themes: crops, plant cover, soil, inputs, and erosion.

 The "Crops" component includes practices such as: associated crops, lengthening and diversification of crop rotation, mechanical weeding, importance of sowing date and choice of variety, etc. Regarding the topic "Vegetation cover", the establishment of multispecies covers or the destruction of covers by grazing sheep are, for example, among the various proposed initiatives. Increasing the content of organic matter and reducing tillage are topics covered in the topic "Soil".

Special attention is also paid to the topic "Inputs" promoting reasoned fertilization and the reasoned application of phytosanitary products. Lastly, the installation of a strip of anti-erosion grass, hedges and also dikes and mounds for various crops are practices included in the “Erosion” theme. Through meetings and discussions, Res'eau makes it possible to highlight all these favorable practices implemented by Walloon farmers.

 The second part of the Res'eau project deals with the adaptation of sprayers. In fact, the sprayer rinsing and cleaning steps can be the source of any point of contamination. Therefore, it is important that sprayers are properly equipped to reduce the risk of water contamination by phytosanitary products.

The Res'eau pilot project for the adaptation of sprayers started in February 2020. Over a year, 31 farmers participated in this pilot project to adapt their sprayer with, depending on the case, a clean water tank; Rotating nozzles for rinsing the inside of the spray tank and / or an external cleaning kit. These farmers benefited from financial support and monitoring throughout the pilot project. All farmers will use the valuable feedback from the field, as well as practical information on adaptations (costs and technical advice) from participating farmers. In fact, the lessons of this pilot project will be brought to other farmers through the network.

Finally, the last part of Res'eau deals with the wells. A small proportion of water withdrawals through wells is of agricultural origin (less than 1.5% of withdrawals in Wallonia). However, these wells can present a risk of point contamination if they are poorly developed or poorly managed. The objective of this "Wells" component is to develop checklists for farmers that allow them to diagnose their well. Thus, various files have been drawn up on topics such as the steps to follow for the creation of a new well, the regulatory requirements to be met or the filling of wells.

Through all these actions, the Res'eau project shows that farmers are proactive and also actors in protecting the environment.

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