EU legume production is growing at a low level
The Union zur Förderung von Oel- und Proteinpflanzen e.V. (UFOP) sees the EU Commission’s current estimate of the area planted to grain legumes for harvest in 2021 as confirmation of its expectations that the cultivation of protein plants continues to receive inadequate funding policy support, considering the existing potential of domestic protein supply and improvement of the GHG balance and biodiversity in arable farming. Consequently, for many European agriculturists, these crops are still not an economically attractive option. The legume area for the 2021 harvest has been expanded 3 percent in the EU-27. The increase was due to the growth in area planted to feed peas, soybeans and field beans.
The area of land dedicated to legume production in the EU-27 has been expanded approximately 3 percent to 2.5 million hectares (nearly 6.2 million acres) for harvest in 2021. The UFOP has critically observed that, although this would be the largest area in four years, it is nevertheless a disillusioning trend. Soybeans take up the largest area, as they did the previous year. At 965,000 hectares, they account for just less than 40 percent of the legume area. This translates to a 3.2 percent rise in soybean area year-on-year. According to Agrarmarkt Informations-Gesellschaft (mbH), this would be a new record. The EU Commission sees feed pea production up 3.3 percent at 866,000 hectares. Field beans were sown on a 3.1 percent larger area of around 459,000 hectares. Only the sweet lupin area, at 169,000 hectares, is down at around 2.3 percent of the previous year’s figure.
The volume of the 2021 harvest will also likely be larger due to the expansions in area planted to soybeans, feed peas and field beans, but this will depend on the weather conditions over the next few weeks. As things stand at present, the soybean harvest could increase 10 percent year-on-year to 2.9 million metric tons. Whereas, according to the EU Commission, the harvest volume of feed peas could rise 6 percent to 2.2 million tons and that of field beans 1 percent to 1.2 million tons, sweet lupins are seen to decline around 9 percent to 227,000 tons.
The UFOP has made it clear that the success of the EU Commission’s “Farm to Fork” strategy will be reflected in how the production areas of these crops are going to develop, because the commission rightly made the creation of regionality and local added value a central aspect of its strategy. Depending on site conditions, grain legumes are a key crop to complement crop rotations for more sustainability and climate resilience.
Along with rapeseed and sunflowers as additional flowering plants, these crops contribute to improving biodiversity due to different flowering times and through soil enrichment with humus and carbon. The reduction of nitrogen applications due to the nitrogen fixation capacity of grain legumes is another factor that actively contributes to protecting the climate. Also, the cultivation of grain legumes contributes to producing domestic GM-free feed and/or food protein, thus cutting the need for protein imports from non-EU countries.
The UFOP therefore expects that the comprehensive ecosystem service approach will find its way into the aims of the agricultural strategy of the German Ministry of Agriculture. UFOP considers this to be a necessary requirement for ensuring that locally adapted crop rotation systems can also contribute to economic sustainability on arable farms. However, the association has pointed out that, in the end, consumers decide at the point of sale whether, and to what extent, extended crop-rotation systems that provide the desired ecosystem service are also rewarded.