The VALPRO Path project team, led by TEAGASC, carried out extensive desk-based research, interviews, and workshops with international experts to identify and visually illustrate gaps throughout the entire plant-based protein value chain. This work culminated in the creation of the interactive story map: “Feeling the Pulse: Gaps in the EU Plant-Based Protein Value Chain.”

But why was this important? 

By concentrating on high-value protein crops grown in the EU such as peas, lupins, chickpeas, faba beans, soybeans, and lentils, the findings incorporated into the story map, provide valuable insights for stakeholders engaged in strategic planning, business case development, and transformative projects within the European food system.

In the newest episode of the VALPRO Path podcast series, Dr. Maeve Henchion, Head of the Department of Agrifood Business and Spatial Analysis at Teagasc, revealed key details about the Story Map.

Could you please begin by explaining the concept behind this Interactive Story Map and which gaps across all stages of the plant-based protein value chain have you captured?

In this task, our aim was to understand the entire process involved in developing plant-based proteins across the whole chain. We know if we want to develop plant-based proteins it’s not enough just to grow it, we also have to think about how it is processed, how it is packaged, and how it is brought to the market. We have to think about the inputs and then we have to think about the final consumer as well. We have to think along all of those stages. 

When we’re thinking about all the legume crops that we covered. We looked at lupins, peas, faba beans, lentils, chickpeas and soybeans. When you try to gather information across all of those stages, across all of those crops, you’re going to end up with a huge big tome of a report which is probably going to sit on a desk and not be of much use.

That being said, we decided that what we needed to do was pull out the key messages. This was the basis on which we developed the Story Map. From that big document that captured all of the information about the gaps at each of the stages, for all those crops, we synthesized some key messages that could be actioned.

The main point was that we were looking at key messages which were specific to legumes rather than crops in general. For example one of the gaps that we talk about is the lack of agronomic knowledge and a lot of management experience with growing these crops, that’s unique to legumes, but may not apply to crops in general across Europe. 

That was our focus – to pick out the main messages and issues specific to legumes. Then, they can be actioned by policymakers or by private or public bodies along the value chain.

How can European farming systems overcome obstacles/gaps mentioned in this Story Map, such as the limited registered grain legume varieties, significant disparities in registered varieties compared to wheat, and scarcity of registered plant protection products to maximize the yield stability of protein-rich legumes?

That’s a very significant point that’s unique to legumes.  We deliberately made that comparison to wheat, to highlight the fact that there is a lack of registered varieties for the legumes. 

We have to remember there are a lot of different requirements for varieties across Europe, in northern Europe, for example, we need cold-tolerant varieties. In Central Europe, where we have a bit more variability, we require varieties that are quite adaptable. In southern Europe, where there are a lot of droughts, you require drought-resistant varieties. In terms of varieties, you need a lot of different types of varieties to cope with the different pedoclimatic regions that are across Europe.

However, developing varieties requires collaboration by several actors, and you need to do research either in research institutions, such as Teagasc, or in universities. You then need to link with seed production companies, who will then have contracts with specialized growers to produce these seeds. Next, you need certification from the ministries of agriculture in various countries. Then you need the marketing and sales, private companies to come on board, and public and private actors to work together. 

We have that within the VALPRO Path project. We do have plant breeding companies working with universities and research institutions to develop more varieties, and that’s a very specific aspect of VALPRO Path, and it’s one of the interesting aspects of Horizon Europe-funded projects. Where you have that multi-actor approach and you have the different actors coming together. 

You need various actors coming together, you need the knowledge from research, you need the farmers and their knowledge and expertise coming together, and then you need the private companies coming together. This model is required for most of the solutions that exist within the value chain. It’s not a single actor that’s going to resolve it, it’s not a particular type of expertise or knowledge – it’s all of the different actors coming together to develop those solutions.

    What have you learned about the cultivation and production phase? Where are the gaps there?

    It’s similar to the varieties. The lack of the different varieties that are required for different zones, while different crops have different requirements as well.

    For example, some are very tolerant of acidity, some are less tolerant, some are more tolerant of drought and waterlogging, and some aren’t. Lupins, for example, even though most legumes can fix nitrogen, they thrive in nutrient-poor soil. But other crops, such as peas, require more fertile soil.

    That’s the whole thing about cultivation and production. You need to understand your crop, you need to understand its needs. One of the messages that agronomists would always say: “You need to have the right crop, for the right soil, in the right area.” 

    That’s the key challenge. All of these crops can be grown very well, but they have to be put into the appropriate field with the appropriate soil type, the appropriate level of acidity, and the appropriate level of fertility. And then you have to consider water logging, drought, all of those pedo-climactic things. 

    But definitely, we need to do a lot more on education, advice, and training to upskill farmers. Recognizing that it’s not just the advisers in the public sector that are relevant here, it is the input suppliers as well. 

    We know from our work here in Teagasc, that it’s learning from other farmers that’s critical, and having demonstrations and peer-to-peer learning. That’s part of the work that we’ll be doing within VALPRO Path, demonstrating how these varieties can be grown in practice and helping people to hear from farmers who are growing these crops. It demonstrates that these things can be grown in practice and successfully grown by farmers, who are quite similar to themselves. It’s possible to do, but you do need to know what you’re doing.

    Curious to learn more?

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