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Growing soy in Europe

GMO-free soy from Brazil for the European animal feed industry is available both in sufficient tonnage and quality. This is what was stated this week by different European organisations. But why not put focus on grow these soy in Europe and be less dependent on South America?

The approximately 400,000 hectares of soya grown in Europe today only represents around 3% of what Europe needs to produce for animal feed. This is why Europe imports over 30 million tonnes of soy from North and South America each year. But there are concerns in doing so. Imported soy (meal) has become really expensive. NGO's have concerns because of deforestation of tropical rain forest, loss of biodiversity, soil and water pollution and the negative impact on small farmers and native population that soy from the Americas have. In addition, there is the societal debate on GMO versus non-GMO soybean crops. Although imported soy has to conform with European criteria, the influence of Europe on these countries is limited. Growing these crops in Europe is therefore of great interest.

Soy yield must be boosted!

In the last few weeks I came across different studies and initiatives looking at optimising and further development of European protein crop production, including (non-GMO) soy. This is exciting news! Wageningen UR in the Netherlands, for example, is working with Agrifirm to develop a strategy for creating a North-western European soy cultivation area with adapted, high-yield varieties. This strategy focuses primarily on increasing yield per hectare of soy, because this is still the main difference compared to soy grown in South America. We have to come up with a competitive version and if high yields can be gained (at least 4 tonnes per hectare), it is also easier to convince arable farmers to replace wheat and maize by soy and to make it a success. Only then Europe can replace part of the imported soy with its home-grown variety.

Other protein sources

But alongside the efforts in studying European soy production, alternative protein sources must also be explored further. What if European soy production does not take off? Insects, by-products of the production of vegetable oils, protein concentrates from crops such as sugar beet and peas and algae and duckweed all show promise in (partly) replacing soy. Studies from Wageningen UR in the Netherlands show that algae and duckweed can produce four to five times as much protein per hectare as soya.

Wageningen UR is working on developing an cost efficient method to extract the water from these products to retain the protein. At the same time, continued pros and cons are being displayed on bringing back meat and bone meal in European animal diets. Outside the EU it seems no issue at all. In 2013, Russia produced almost 253,000 tonnes of meat and bone meal for feed production which is 21% higher than in 2012!

Time will tell

Regarding the European soy projects, I am pleased to hear that many (seed)companies are currently teaming up with animal feed companies (such as the initiatives by Agrifirm) to study how soy and other protein crops can be grown by European farmers. Only then, Europe will be able to better provide for its own protein demands in the years to come and hence reduce dependency on imports and be more in control of raw material prices. The market for European grown soy beans is still small, but -pushed by the European Union - the ideas around growing soy and other protein crops in Europe seem to actually take shape. But are these efforts a drop in the ocean or will they positively influence the feed prices and hence farmers' income? And will it in the end also save the South American rainforests and end the debate on GMO soy? That would be great, but time will tell.


  • J Gressel

    It is environmentally unsound to cultivate non-GMO soy. It is almost impossible to perform erosion preventing minimum tillage without the transgenic glyphosate resistant soy, and all alternative weed control systems are both more expensive, less energy efficient, and are more persistent in the environment. As all major health and regulatory agencies have clearly stated that there is no difference between the transgenic and non-transgenic, why persist in unscientific conversations about GMO free.

    Instead, you should be educating the public.

  • Emmy Koeleman

    Thank you for your comment. In this article, I am primarly talking about potential beneficial effects of European soy and other alternative protein sources regarding price of the raw materials and the wish to be less dependent on SA soy. GMO free in this respect is not so much an issue. It is about creating a strategy which is economically viable and sustainable and provide good quality protein sources to be used in animal diets. Regarding this topic, AllAboutFeed is aiming to inform our readers (the feed professionals) in the best possible way. Have a good weekend!

  • David Akinde

    by re-focusing on soya what effect would that have on the acrage already covered by wheat and corn? Would that not produce a new set of gaps in the supply of energy feedstuffs? I believe that the more feasible solution lies in offering more crystalline amino acids in feed rations. Thus Europe would do better to Focus all the available Research and industry funds on fermentation technology and related innovations. Doing these can result in Commercial availability of at least 3 additional essential amino acids to what we already have within the next 1 or 2 decades. And then soya consumption can be driven down very appreciably. Shamefully however it is the asians that are leading in fermentation research and applications! Why? Indeed for europe to produce significant amount of soya without genetic modifications of the germplasms is a very tall order, or a White elephant Project to be modest, really.

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