Europe should grow more grain legumes, finds EU project

European farmers should grow more grain legumes for their positive human, environmental and economic benefits, an EU-funded project is to say.

At its dissemination conference, the members of Grain Legumes Integrated Project (GLIP) will detail the results of its research into legume crops and how these could be used in crop rotation to
foster profitable, sustainable and environmentally-friendly agriculture in Europe.

Although legume crops such as the pea, lupin, chickpea and lentil, appear to be a farmer’s best friend, fixing nitrogen in the soil and therefore reducing the need for fertilisers, experts say
the protein-rich grain legumes are currently underused in European agriculture. Currently only 5% of Europe’s arable land is used to cultivate legume crops compared with 15% to 30% elsewhere in
the world.

Reluctance among farmers to grow these crops has been explained with reference to diseases such as root rot, as well as the natural design of the plant, which means it often collapses under its
own weight.

The GLIP project has been busy using genetics and breeding, alongside new ideas about fundamental plant biology, to sequence the complete genetic code of Medicago truncatula or ‘barrel medick’.
This is an experimental plant and is expected to providing clues on how to deal with the more complex crops of lentils and peas.

The researchers have successfully identified five new genes responsible for the development of the plant’s architecture. The architecture conditions numerous responses, such as the progression
of diseases, competition for resources and stress tolerance.

In addition, GLIP is also interested in the benefits of these crops for animal feed. These are being studied by nutritionists and economists, and novel feed processing methods will be tested to
try and improve animal health. These initial studies will be done on pigs and salmon, where the team hopes it can help solve the fish industry’s urgent need for alternative sources of protein.

Critically, the project has also set up a Technology Platform with industrial partners to facilitate the technology transfer of research into grain legumes, as these will have an important role
to play in answering the two challenges of Europe’s food needs and its future requirements in biofuels.

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