Sustainable Nordic Protein Production

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The past ten years protein crop production within the EU has declined dramatically leading to a dependence on imported protein. Protein crop production in the EU today occupies only three percent of arable land, whereas imported protein crops represents 80% of protein consumption.

The protein deficit is due to international trade agreements (GATT, Blair House Agreement) which allowed the EU to protect cereal production but in return allowed for duty free imports of oilseed and protein crops. These agreements lead to a competitive disadvantage for EU protein crop production resulting in a sharp decline in production and a reduction in both breeding and research activities (EU 2011). Today, livestock producers are vulnerable to price volatility and depend on affordable and high quality protein imports.

Protein is a fundamental input for humans and animals including fish farming. Legumes are self-sufficient with nitrogen, which will reduce the dependency on N fertilizers and have positive impacts on crop rotation and farming systems. At the same time a sustainable Nordic protein production would benefit local farmers’ communities, strengthen the Nordic cooperation and self-sufficiency.

Protein crops can be divided into:

  • grain legumes/pulses (where peas, beans, fava beans, lentils, and soybeans are the most important crops) that are used as human food and/or in feed for livestock and fish farming 
  • fodder legumes (where red clover, white clover and lucerne/alfalfa are most important).

In protein concentrates, soy bean is the most largely used ingredient. A sustainable Nordic protein production is possible, but requires increased research, pre-breeding and breeding activities, and cooperation between stakeholders, including farmers associations, research institutes, and the breeding– and feed-industry.

The aim of the project:

Mapping of plant protein supply for the Nordic food and feed industry. Screening and describing the basic properties of available materials in gene banks to facilitate the use in breeding and pre-breeding in the Nordic countries. The focus will be on agricultural traits that are important for Nordic breeders in their work to produce new well adapted varieties for the regionscurrent and future climate. The aim is as well to establish a network with relevant stakeholders.

Projekt leader: Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen), Alnarp Sweden and Copenhagen University, Denmark. Contact: Anna Palmé, Svein Solberg and Gert Poulsen