Aberystwyth University scientists have joined forces with the best plant breeders from around Europe to promote crops that can replace imported protein.
Livestock farming in the EU and UK uses about 10 million tonnes of nitrogen fertiliser from natural gas and the equivalent of about 35 million tonnes of soya, mostly imported.
As part of the new Legume Generation consortium, west Wales academics will join other leading research organisations from around Europe to boost the breeding of soybean, lupin, pea, lentil, bean and clover.
These legume crops, which can replace fertilizers and imported soya, are relatively rarely grown by European farmers, accounting for only two to three per cent of the cropping area.
The new partnership – which includes 32 partners from 16 countries, including New Zealand and the USA – has recently been awarded €7 million from the European Union and UK Government.
Running until February 2028, the work aims to reduce the European protein deficit by boosting plant breeding to make legumes more productive and profitable for European farmers.
Dr Catherine Howarth from the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University said: “Given the climate and biodiversity crises, and the benefits of plant-based foods, plants of the legume family are good for our health and for the planet.
“Lentil, soybean, lupin, pea, and bean and their relatives fix their own nitrogen from the air and provide us with protein-rich seeds, that are key to a healthy and sustainable diet.
“Increasing their production in Europe will make farming systems more diverse, resilient and sustainable.”
Dr Lars-Gernot Otto from the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research added: “The project will contribute to our mission to support plant breeding with our seed bank and to harness the power of genetics for the sustainable development of farming.
“The legumes are an essential part of sustainable agricultural systems and this project allows us to contribute to developing the improved varieties that we need.
“We need to form new partnerships between leading European plant research organisations and the plant breeders upon which the improvement of farm crops depends.
“We will change the way legume plant breeders are supported by research for the benefit of European farmers, the environment, and our health.”