Scientists at Aberystwyth University's Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) in Wales have confirmed that lupins will provide a viable, alternative source of soya-grade protein for animal feed.

This is the conclusion of a three year research project, which may kick start the commercial growing of lupins in the UK and Ireland.

The IBERS work has revealed that livestock and poultry given rations containing lupins perform equally well and, in some cases, better than those fed rations of comparable quality containing soya.

IBERS’ Professor Nigel Scollan confirmed that the UK and Europe have major issues with protein security within the livestock sectors and are heavily dependent on imported soya.

Our research findings have proven that we can increase the amount of protein that can be grown on farms in this part of the world with proven practical and economic benefits to producers.

The aim of the IBERS project was to look at sweet (edible) lupins which are high in protein, as a viable farm-grown alternative protein source to go into animal feeds.

"The three main varieties - white, yellow and narrow-leafed - offered crude protein levels of 28-42% and a more favourable amino acid profile than either beans or peas,” said Scollan.

There is clear evidence that lupins could help as a replacement for soya with no compromise to performance.

Up to now there have been barriers to the uptake of crops such as lupins, including the lack of an infrastructure between farms and the feed-milling industry, the limited range of approved herbicides and possibly even a lack of confidence amongst farmers that lupins can match the animal performance of soya.

But many of these concerns have been laid to rest by the IBERS findings, the publication of which coincides with some broader political and economic factors which could help drive the lupin-growing industry forward.

These include the increasing unacceptability and cost of importing soya, the declining availability of non-genetically modified (GM) soya and a widespread desire to improve UK food security in the face of volatile international markets.

A further significant impetus to the uptake of lupins is expected to come from the Common Agricultural Policy whose new 'greening' rules will be compulsory for those in receipt of the Basic Payment which comes into effect this year.