Belgian farmers increased the amount of agricultural land used for cereal crops and grain maize by 36% last year, according to Belgium’s statistics office, Statbel. The rise in production has been largely driven by the soaring price of grain due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This has caused a significant drop in Ukrainian grain exports, which forced some supermarkets in Belgium to ration products containing grains and oils earlier at the start of 2022.
Belgian growers have boosted production to take advantage of the higher prices and to ensure domestic supply. However, farmers have faced challenges such as rapidly increasing inflation and the cost of fertilisers. Grassland accounts for 41.3% of Belgium’s agricultural land, while cereals such as wheat, rye, oats, barley, millet, and maize occupy 23.7% of the land. The area dedicated to these crops increased by 19,251 hectares last year, compared to the previous year.
The composition of Belgian agricultural land has also been influenced by the EU’s “eco-schemes” under the new Common Agricultural Policy. The schemes provide financial incentives for planting protein crops, “deep-rooting cut crops,” and fauna-friendly crops. As a result, there has been a significant increase in “fallow land” in Belgium, which is left unharvested for environmental reasons. Fauna-friendly crops have increased by 13.5% in Flanders and by 24% in Wallonia.
Due to the war in Ukraine, there has been a decline in the global availability of seed oils, leading Wallonia to increase oilseed crops by a staggering 84%. Statbel attributes this increase to the growth of sunflower seeds and soybeans.
Statisticians have also noted changes in how fruits are grown in Belgium. The area dedicated to outdoor strawberries fell by 10.2%, while there was a 9.5% increase in those grown in greenhouses. The area of orchards also grew slightly. Additionally, land dedicated to berries increased by 11.2%, driven largely by a 20.7% rise in vineyards.
Belgian poultry breeders have been contending with the European bird flu epidemic, which has led to a 3.7% decrease in the number of laying hens for table eggs. Statisticians estimate that this decrease is due to avian influenza, high feed costs, and high energy prices. The Belgian cattle population also decreased by just over 1% in October 2022 compared to the previous year, while the number of beef cows fell by 2.6%. The pig population decreased by 4.8%.
At the end of 2022, the value of the Belgian agricultural sector fell to all-time lows, with a total GDP of just €379 million. Farmers have struggled to compete with rising input costs and competition with agricultural goods from other EU Member States and overseas countries.