Dehydrated alfalfa: an excellent product in terms of carbon footprint

Sometimes still associated, in people's minds, with the consumption of coal mountains, the dehydrated alfalfa industry has been working for a long time to reduce its carbon footprint. A certain efficiency that it intends to communicate well, based on an exemplary track record in the use of renewable energy and carbon storage.

“Coal mountains are a reality of the past. Today, we have an extremely positive development, on which we must communicate," said Éric Guillemot, Director of the Coopération agricole Luzerne, during a presentation of the sector's carbon and energy balances on November 23.

The subject of carbon is the heart of current events, the dehydrated alfalfa sector has been tackling the problem since the end of the 1990s. After an initial energy balance drawn up by a consulting firm in 2003, proposing areas for improvement such as pre-handling in the fields, a life cycle analysis was carried out in 2006. An update of this analysis was presented by its author, Pascal Thiébeau, at the Reims INRAE.


Data collection was conducted from four production units over four years of collection (2016 to 2019), representing a representative sample of 29% of national production. Several developments have taken place since 2006-2007: the implementation of flat pre-handling in the field and first trials of substitution of wood chips for coal in 2008-2009. Then from 2016, the implementation of furnaces adapted to the massive incorporation of biomass as an energy source.


Since 2006, the sector's carbon emissions have also been steadily declining, thanks to the replacement of non-renewable carbon (lignite and coal) by renewable carbon. The positive carbon balance is improving, from + 218 kg/t in 2006 to + 391 kg/t in 2018-2019.

The performance of harvesting techniques, less energy-intensive industrial processes, and the replacement of non-renewable energy by renewable energy, supported by the implementation of a "biomass" supply chain, have thus enabled developments in the sector.

However, these efforts are for the moment financed solely by it. "This is a cost to farmers because not all the investments we make add value to the market. You can't keep cutting back on producers' income to be virtuous. We've been doing it for years, but it's not a sustainable management method," regrets Éric Guillemot. However, he no longer hopes that the European Union will return to the ETS mechanism (the Emissions Trading Scheme), which taxes emissions while forgetting the specificity of the agricultural sector, which captures carbon. But the sector's efforts could in the future be monetized by private funds. And these efforts will, in any case, continue to grow: "We will unveil by January our commitment to further reduce emissions by 2025-2030," says the director of the Agricultural Cooperation Luzerne.

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