The practicalities of growing protein crops are set to come under debate as part of an event informing farmers about a new department-run scheme to incentivise the crops in Northern Ireland.

CAFRE, AFBI and AgriSearch are joining forces to hold the webinar on Monday, March 8 at 7:30pm.

Agriculture Minister Gordon Lyons announced earlier this month a pilot version of the scheme would begin in time for the 2021 scheme year.

In 2019, 369,000t of imported soya was used in feedstuffs manufacturing alone in Northern Ireland.

However, it's hoped the scheme will reduce the region's dependence on imported plant protein, while also encouraging best practice in crop rotation, pest management and crop diversity.

It will pay £330/ha with the total area eligible for payment under the Pilot Scheme to be capped at 1,000ha.

During the event, Dr. Rosemary Agnew will explain how the new DAERA pilot support scheme will work in practice.

She will be joined by Leigh McClean, from the CAFRE Crops Advisory Team, and Simon Best, an arable farmer from Scarva, who will then discuss crop husbandry and agronomy of protein crops and Best's personal experiences growing field beans.

Best has been involved in AFBI's research on protein crops for the last six years.

Dr. Conrad Ferris will also explain the results of recent research carried out at AFBI Hillsborough showing the potential of field beans to partially replace imported protein sources such as soya bean and rapeseed meal with no significant impacts on cow performance.

The presentations will be followed by a discussion session chaired by AgriSearch chairman Seamus McCaffrey.

McCaffrey said: “The importance of food security and shorter food supply chains has been highlighted by the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Imported protein supplements are expensive and subject to price volatility. In addition, the long-term supply of non-genetically modified protein into Europe cannot be guaranteed.

"Reducing imports would both increase resilience in the sector and improve the carbon footprint and environmental sustainability of local dairy systems.”

Dr. Elizabeth Magowan, director of Sustainable Agri-Food Sciences Division in AFBI, added: “It is really important that farmers and industry are provided with knowledge and advice, from recent experiences and research, on how to harness the benefits of this important DAERA scheme.

"I am delighted that AFBI, CAFRE and AgriSearch have joined forces to bring forward this important webinar to ensure their collective intelligence on the growing and feeding of homegrown proteins is available for farmers and the wider industry.”

The webinar will be hosted on the CAFRE WebEx portal.