New initiative aiming to make legumes a more profitable crop

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Less profitable legumes could soon be viewed as a more commercially viable crop following a new research initiative at the James Hutton Institute.

Despite the benefits of legume-based farming systems like crops being highly nutritious and requiring no inorganic fertiliser, they haven’t really taken off in the UK because of a perception that legumes are a less cost-effective crop.

However, the new research where JHI scientists will work alongside colleagues from European organisations from across the European legume supply chain, could soon change that long held view from UK farmers.

The €5 million four-year initiative - Transition paths to Sustainable legume-based systems in Europe (TRUE) - will identify how society can transition to sustainable legume-based farming systems and agricultural feed and food networks.

Dr Pietro Iannetta, an agroecologist from the James Hutton Institute’s Ecological Sciences group and coordinator of TRUE, said the potential of legume-supported food production is immense.

“Under current consumption patterns Europe imports 70% of its protein. There is also an increasing demand for plant protein which can help tackle poor diets and health problems,” he says. 

“TRUE aims to pinpoint the role of legumes in harmonising the often-conflicting needs of the ‘environment’, ‘society’ and ‘business’, the so-called ‘three pillars of sustainability’.”

“The challenge here is to synthesise data from the full range of actors, identify the barriers and means by which we may make the most of the opportunities to deliver multiple benefits across all three pillars.”

TRUE is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and comes at a time when there is an increasing preference for healthy, sustainably-grown food, both by consumers and industry.

“More obvious items on the shelves include grain legume-based breads and crisps. Less obvious legume based products are sustainable proteins in the form of meats from aquaculture-based fish and shellfish farms, and legume-grass fed cattle and now even beer. However, to maximise the benefits the level of interest needs to be encouraged in a manner which ensures home-grown legumes are exploited.

“Currently, legumes occupy only a small portion of conventional farmed systems and co-ordinated support and development of capacities within local supply chains is therefore essential.

“There is a great opportunity here for small growers to innovate, diversify and shorten their supply chains by developing their own high-quality legume-based products.”

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