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Sequential cropping has positive impact on GHG reductions, biodiversity and soil quality – EBA

As the European Commission adopts the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and Farm to Fork strategy, evidence collected by the European Biogas Association (EBA) shows that biogas production based on sequential cropping is a powerful solution to decreased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, protection of biodiversity and restoration of soil quality. The EBA calls for full legislative consistency with renewable energy and the proposed CAP reform, the biodiversity strategy, and the farm to fork strategy.

According to the European Biogas Association (EBA), the current European Green Deal context is a major opportunity for tapping into the potential of renewable gases. However, EU’s renewable energy legislation should recognise the benefits of growing multiple crops on the same field and ensure full consistency with the proposed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, the biodiversity strategy, and the farm to fork strategy.

The European Commission is to adopt the Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the Farm to Fork strategy core components of the European Green Deal. The strategies will strengthen farmers’ efforts to tackle climate change, protect the environment, and preserve biodiversity.

In a paper, the European Biogas Association (EBA) points out that developing a sustainable European bioeconomy should provide not only provide renewable energy, but it should also offer solutions for healthy and secure ecosystems for people, as well as all animal and plant species.

Therefore renewable energy legislation should recognise the benefits of growing multiple crops on the same field and ensure full consistency with the proposed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, the biodiversity strategy, and the farm to fork strategy.

Sequential cropping can deliver on all counts

According to the EBA, the evidence that it has collected from the biogas sector shows that proper biogas production based on sequential cropping is a sustainable activity. On top of that, it is a powerful solution leading to decreased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, protection of biodiversity, and restoration of soil quality through agroecological innovation and organic fertilization.

Sequential cropping can lead to negative carbon emissions by stimulating natural photosynthesis and using bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Additional GHG emissions from chemical industries are avoided by using organic digestate to fertilize the crops, replacing fossil-derived mineral fertilizers.

Methane emissions are also avoided when livestock manure is transported to a controlled environment for biogas production. At the same time, biogas production reduces farmers’ dependence on livestock, which is an important source of GHG emissions in the agricultural sector.

In addition to the positive impact on emissions reductions, sequential cropping done in a regime of crop rotation helps protect biodiversity and preserve healthy soils. Farmers rely on healthy and fertile land to grow nutritious food and feed.

Digeatse at a UK biogas plant.

Digestate is a valuable co-product of biogas plants in its use as an organic fertilizer ensuring nutrient recycling while replacing fossil-derived mineral fertilizers. According to fertilizing product regulation, fertilizers are divided into organic fertilizers and mineral fertilizers. Organo-mineral fertilizers are a blended version made of natural and chemical inputs.

Soil content of humus and carbon are very important indicators to assess soil health and fertility. Building humus in the soil is possible when the land is covered with plants all year long, which is the case when sequential cropping is applied.

Coherent and supportive policy framework needed to reach full benefit potential

Despite the multiple benefits of sequential cropping, the current policy framework does not recognise the possibility to grow multiple crops in the same field. This hampers the production of biogas and the full deployment of this renewable energy. Food and feed production are not displaced when producers adopt sequential cropping.

EBA warmly recommends the Commission to acknowledge the low indirect land-use change (ILUC) risk potential of such a practice, which should be certified accordingly. In the agricultural sector, the CAP should be a major driver of the European Green Deal and promote sustainable and efficient agriculture.

Agriculture is not only aimed at food and feed production, but it is also a primary source for textile products or chemical industries. A forward-looking CAP should ensure flexibility for producers to organize and operate. It should also enable societal benefits, including access to renewable energy, and environmental protection.

EBA acknowledges the need to protect human health, the environment, and the related ecosystem services while providing renewable energy to decarbonise the economy. A coherent and supportive policy framework will be essential to recognise both the benefits of biogas and its capacity to deliver on the objectives of the European Green Deal.

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