Agrifirm assessed which locally grown EU protein sources could potentially replace soy of South American origin in a standard Dutch broiler diet, eventually selecting ingredients on the basis that they were readily available all year round in an effort to avoid storage costs.
“We told the purchasing department to buy locally grown protein sources based on that parameter, and to disregard the price of those raw materials.
Due to soy crushing limitations and insufficient quantities of soybeans in the area, using soy of EU origin was ruled out.
And as there is currently limited amount of faba beans available regionally, that raw material could not be utilized either.
So the team opted to use peas, potato protein, or rapeseed expeller in the trial diets,” Ruud Tijssens, director of corporate affairs at Agrifirm, told us.
Negative impact on FCR
The results of a feeding trial, conducted at the cooperative’s Laverdonk experimental farm and spread over the six weeks of a growth cycle of a broiler, indicated there was a negative impact on feed conversion ratio (FCR) – 30% lower - when soy from South American origin was removed and replaced with EU origin protein inputs.
“The growth rate was similar to a diet including soymeal but the volumes of substituted proteins required to meet the nutritional needs of the bird were so great that the value just wasn’t there.
Also the reformulated broiler diet, primarily due to the absence of soymeal, was lacking in certain amino acids, for some of which it is impossible to find alternatives on the market,” said Tijssens.
Europe is not self-sufficient in protein containing raw materials. As it stands, protein such as soymeal is imported from the southern hemisphere, augmented by protein from the northern hemisphere in summer.
But there is an ongoing debate in various EU countries on the sustainability, risk and costs associated with an over reliance on animal feed protein imports.
Tijssens says Agrifirm is at the forefront of such discussion and has developed a twofold protein strategy. “Around 90% of our work in this regard is taken up with both stimulating and developing the production and trade of responsibly produced soy products,” he said.
But the Dutch group is also studying the possibilities for increasing EU origin protein crop production and supporting research in the field.
“The reality is that Europe will have to continue to import animal feed protein inputs for the next few decades.
However, it is our vision that alternative European protein sources could deliver multiple opportunities for arable crop and livestock farmers, provided that specific niche market channels are supported.
We already see a lot of interest from certain Dutch dairy players in research we are conducting that is looking at heat treating EU grown soybeans for use in dairy cow diets,” said Tijssens.
Soy crushing restrictions
Agrifirm, in a three month project that is being run in conjunction with dairy companies, is exploring the use of heat treatment on soybeans, given the constraints that exist in relation to crushing when there is a limited supply of EU origin beans.
Tijssens said EU soy crushers would need a delivery of a minimum of 30,000 to 40,000 tons of EU soybeans to merit segregating them from imported beans and preserving their EU origination value.
For several years, Agrifirm has been involved in pilot scale testing of regionally produced soy, evaluating how to increase soybean yields per hectare. “We now have 37 farmers involved and the top 25% of these are hitting yields of 3.4 tons per hectare, which compares well with the worldwide rate of 2.7 to 2.9 tons per hectare,“ he said.
The cooperative, said Tijssens, is also supporting research into soy seed selection, crop protection, fertilization methods and determining the optimum time to harvest the beans.