The research in Legume Futures has now been completed and the publication of the research has commenced. The primary publication effort is based on the Legume Futures Final Report (summarised below); detailed Legume Futures Reports (linked); and scientific peer-reviewed publications.
14 monographs as Legume Futures Reports have been prepared from the research and 13 of these are now published here. The remaining three will be provided here after other relevant scientific publications are complete. The 14 reports are as follows:
We emphasise that our results remain preliminary at this early stage after the end of the research and so readers who wish to use results are advised to contact the relevant lead author to the consortium through this website.
The Legume Futures Consortium
1 May 2015
Summary of the Legume Futures Final Report
Legumes have historically played an important role in European agriculture, generating critically important inputs of nitrogen to support crop growth, providing high quality pulses for human consumption and feed for livestock in the form of forage and feed grain legumes.Grain legumes are now grown on only 1.8% of arable land in Europe compared with 4.6% fifty years ago.On the forage side, legumes have largely given way to heavily fertilised grassland over the same period. This decline in legume production in Europe over the last fifty years occurred while the demand for meat, particularly pig and poultry meat more than doubled. Against this background, the Legume Futures project set out to deliver knowledge for the optimisation of the use of legumes in European agricultural systems. We used a combination of case studies, modelling and new data to examine how profitable legume-supported cropping systems may be developed.We also examined the resource, environmental and economic effects of producing legume across the EU. The impact of our research through farm practice depends greatly on public policy, particularly the Common Agricultural Policy.We explored the rationale for public intervention and options for proving support through public policy to the production of legumes.
Using a network of 18 agronomic case studies in 12 countries, we examined the current status of legumes in European farming systems and evaluated the economic and biophysical potential of new and novel cropping systems in which legumes are a component. The agronomic case study approach helped us to understand in a qualitative way the current state of legume production in different agro-climatic zones, the associated benefits and perceived barriers to production. This was achieved through discussion with an extensive network of researchers, advisors, producers and NGOs, from local to the European scale complemented by insights gathered from the network of 18 long-term and well-documented experiments. The accumulated intelligence from these qualitative and quantitative approaches was used to develop biophysical and economic models of cropping systems at both the farm and regional scales. Using five contrasting regions of Europe as regional case studies (Eastern Scotland (UK), Calabria (IT) Sud-Muntena (RO)) Västergötland (SE) and Brandenburg (DE)), a rigorous analysis of existing and new cropping sequences was undertaken to explore the economic and agronomic implications of introducing or extending the use of legumes.
Some findings Economic performance
In the majority of cases, our estimates show that there are possible cropping sequences with legumes that are more profitable than those that do not. At current estimates of crop values and input costs, including legumes in rotations in many European conditions is already economically viable at farm level. However, in cases studies from Sweden and Germany, our estimates show that legume-supported rotations are less profitable and considered by farmers to represent a higher risk than rotations without legumes. The legume component of our novel cropping sequences took the form of an additional crop in the rotation or a replacement for another crop. Our assessment of the novel sequences we generated drew on our observations from different regions of the “pre-crop” or “break-crop” effect of legumes on yield, N uptake, quality and crop health of the following crops.Cereals following a legume crop can yield up to 25% more than continuous cereals and our research suggests that in conventionally fertilised cropping systems (rather than organic) this is largely due to rhizosphere processes influencing nutrient uptake and pest and disease control. The magnitude of this effect varies with species, for example, high-biomass crops such as faba bean generally give a greater pre-crop effect than low-biomass crops such as chickpea. The largest effects of introducing legumes on other crops in the sequence are expected in areas which have predominantly cereal based rotations e.g.Poland, Northern Italy.
A review of the non-food uses of legumes demonstrated their value for a range of uses as animal feeds and for other industrial purposes. BNF is a characteristic of pioneer plants, allowing them to remediate soils otherwise unsuitable for agriculture. Legumes have evolved many biochemical mechanisms that protect them from herbivores, and the bioactivity of these compounds makes them suitable for many non-food purposes, including the provision of novel livestock feeds, phytoremediation, bioenergy and biorefining.
Resource and environmental effects
A case for such a policy intervention to support legume production in Europe is commonly presented on the basis of expected resource and environmental benefits (substitution of fertiliser N, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, improved biodiversity etc.).The Legume Futures project therefore used its network of sites to directly assess these resource and environmental impacts. Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) occurs in legumes as a result of a symbiotic relationship between the plant and microorganisms. In the literature there are a range of estimates of the importance of BNF as an input to the European nitrogen cycle. Most published estimates have simply multiplied crop area by BNF per unit area for that crop. From our re-analysis of existing literature combined with our taking account of variation in crop yields across Europe, we estimate that 811,000 tonnes of N were fixed in the EU27 by agricultural legumes in 2009. This comprises 586,000 tonnes fixed by forage legumes (414,000 tonnes from permanent pastures and 172,000 tonnes from temporary pastures) and 225,000 tonnes from arable legumes, predominantly pea, faba bean and soybean.The losses of nitrous oxide from legume and non-legume supported systems were studied in both forage and grain legumes addressing a recognised knowledge gap in this area.We measured nitrous oxide emissions across a range of sites in legumes and in following crops using an agreed protocol and focusing on quantifying the proportion of nitrous oxide released from the biologically fixed nitrogen and the emission intensity (the amount of nitrous oxide emitted per unit of crop produced). We have established that the use of legumes (both grain and forage) within farming systems can significantly reduce nitrous oxide emissions and emission intensities. We estimate an overall average emission factor for nitrogen fixed by legumes of 0.14 %, compared to 1% for fertiliser N. This equates to an annual flux of N2O of 0.41 kg N2O-N ha-1 for faba bean and 0.54 kg N2O-N ha-1 for peas on average. Our life-cycle analyses of show that the overall impact of producing more grain legumes in Europe provides a small climate benefit compared to using importing soybeans. Approximately 280 kg CO2eq are avoided for each hectare of pea produced instead of wheat in Europe. Similarly, 175 kg CO2eq are avoided for each hectare of faba bean produced.In order to quantify the impact of legumes on biodiversity we examined crops in detail across our network.This considered in-crop flora, earthworms, ground-active invertebrates and Carabidae communities, as well as soil fauna feeding activity. Although there were differences between sites and crops, there was no consistent effect of the inclusion of legumes within a cropping system on biodiversity.
Policy measures and impact
Our analysis of the impact of policy measures currently available within the Common Agricultural Policy show that current measures have only a limited scope for increasing cultivation of legumes in arable farming.Modelling the impact of potential European policies up until 2020 showed that a ‘Legume Premium Payment’ would offer the best way for policy to influence the cultivation of grain legumes.
The Legume Futures project ended on 28 February 2014. It now provides a valuable resource on which to base future research and policy decisions.In line with the consortium’s publication strategy, a public version of the final report summarising the work will be published on this website when the project is formally closed.Supporting that report, 14 Legume Futures reports detailing results have been prepared and 10 of these are presented here.In addition, we estimate that the project will result in more than 60 peer-reviewed scientific papers from across the consortium.A book on legume cropping is also being prepared.
The publication activity outlined above is complemented by other activities with long term impact.During the four years of the project, the consortium participated in more than 300 activities interacting with users of this research ranging from the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament to small groups of local farmers across Europe. The project played a significant role in the public policy debate about using legume crops in Europe and the wider consequences of how protein is sourced and used in Europe. In relation to the European Research Area, the consortium increased scientific capacity in several of the partner organisations, particularly in the environmental assessment of crops.The project has also embedded a deeper awareness of the perspective of users of research and the policy context of this type of agronomic research in the consortium.This extends in particular to the early career scientists who worked on the project.Amongst a wide range of other outputs, these early career scientists delivered a total of eight post-graduate theses from the research supported by Legume Futures.