Special Edition: Alternative Feed Proteins

Promising outcomes in UK lupin trials aimed at boosting organic feed supply

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/PicturePartners
© GettyImages/PicturePartners

Related tags: Agriculture

The first trials in a UK project looking at growing organic blue and white lupins as a homegrown protein source for livestock production had mixed results.

The initiative, which is backed by the UK Soil Association and Innovative Farmers, saw 12 organic farmers spread across the South West growing small plots of either blue or white organic lupins last year. The white variety largely failed, but the blue showed promise and could be competitive with either beans or cereals.

"The first year could not be called a success in crop yield terms. The weather pattern of dry drilling time and wet harvest time could not have been worse. We suffered a large number of complete failures and only a few crops showing commercial sized yields but in terms of learning what not to do it was very useful.  

"We have learnt the key importance of seed bed preparation and seed variety, and this year we will build on the lessons of last year to show that we can achieve a reliable protein crop with the potential to replace beans as a cash legume in organic arable systems,"​ Nigel Mapstone, project lead and ruminant expert, Mole Valley Farmers, told us. 

Lupins can be used in dairy rations, with minimal processing, and, such, there would be no need to set up the kind of processing infrastructure linked to soybean cultivation.

The main problem in growing them organically is weeds. The farmers in this field trial used a range of weed control measures, with mechanical weed control proving the most effective.  

Mapstone said the team is planning the second year of the Innovative Farmers field trials with a lot of confidence and enthusiasm. "As word spreads more organic arable farmers are expressing interest in the project and the prospect of a new cash crop."

If you are interested in finding out more about regional protein production in relation to both fish feed and monogastric and dairy production, join us in Amsterdam on 6-7 March 2018 for our inaugural face-to-face event - Feed Protein Vision​. The conference will also explore the opportunities of single cell technology, insect meal, or higher amino acid supplementation. You can register for the one and a half day conference here​.  

Trial findings 

Mapstone noted the main findings of the first year of the organic lupin cultivation trials:

  • Achieving good plant numbers is crucial to both weed competition and eventual yield.
  • Getting a good clean seed bed and drilling as soon as the ground is warm enough leads to good plant establishment.
  • Soil pH below seven is not as important as we were told.
  • White lupins are better suited to Australia or arable silage.

“We discovered this year that, to ripen evenly, white lupins need a period of hot dry weather in late August, which is something we have not seen for several years. Because of this, the remainder of the white lupin plots had to be abandoned, as they were never going to be harvestable.

“The remaining blue lupin plots were harvested in late September. Again, the weather was unhelpful. The lupins had a moisture content of 30%. Because lupins are a late crop, the annual weeds, which had looked a problem in July, had died down and harvesting was similar to beans. After cleaning and drying down to 15%, we achieved a yield of 2.5t lupins.”

The pressure on the UK organic protein feed supply is motivating some farmers to start cultivating domestic sources.

Mapstone, in an interview with this publication in February last year, told us that UK organic protein buyers were, in the main, reduced to sourcing soy expeller and sunflower from China, due to certification challenges around those raw materials in Ukraine.

However, he said Mole Valley Farmers was not comfortable with such a situation. “Firstly, it is quite a distance - the miles travelled do not fit in with the organic food ethos. Secondly, only having one source of protein supply puts us at risk. Furthermore, if there are any queries regarding efficacy of the Chinese protein supply, we will all be really challenged.”

There is an increasing trend towards local sourcing, anyhow, in European organic production and associated regulatory proposals, he added.

So, based on all that, somebody had to start looking at bringing supply closer to home, and getting a little more security in terms of supply. It would be nice, and it is one that we have as target, to be able to produce a feed wholly UK grown.”

We recently talked to the coordinator​ of a newly launched EU project aimed at helping organic pig and poultry farmers achieve the goal of 100% use of organic and regional feed.

The Horizon 2020 backed OK-Net EcoFeed, which will run until December 2020, was launched at a kick-off meeting at the Organic Research Centre in Newbury in the UK last week.

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