17 April 1997

Bags of potential for home protein to fend off imports

Potential of home-grown protein crops and limiting risk of

pollution were subjects aired at the Grassland Technical

Workshop, York, organised by MAFF, MLC and MDC.

Simon Wragg reports

HOME-GROWN protein crops could break UK producers dependency on imports, but current low prices for imported protein, depressed farm incomes and proposed soil nitrogen limits could delay their uptake.

According to Axient senior nutritionist, Diana Allen, a number of protein crops have been tried successfully by UK growers. Many offer a significant chance to increase protein from home-grown sources rather than relying on imports such as soya.

"Its possible to grow a forage mix thats 16% crude protein. All UK dairy and beef cattle could be fed on protein grown in this country," she told delegates. Forage mixes would include white clover, red clover and kale.

Concentrate proteins could also come from home-grown sources. Among the front runners showing potential were lupins, soyabean and naked oats, said Mrs Allen.

"If we can grow soya in this country successfully wed have full traceability – but economic viability of the crop is questionable."

But SAC beef specialist, Basil Lowman, wasnt convinced that encouraging producers with little or no knowledge of such crops to grow them was a good idea – especially when farm incomes are down.

"These are specialist crops needing special treatment. Some may require new machinery which would increase overheads or reliance on contractors. Many farms are already struggling to manage costs," he warned.

Rather than promote weird and wonderful crops, he urged producers to turn attention to utilising waste from the human food chain.

"Supermarket contracts are oversupplied with products made to human food standards. Farms are a natural dumping ground for this surplus – be it bread or whatever – especially with dumping charges to supermarkets of £7/t," he added.

However, Mrs Allen said producers needed to have an arsenal of options should protein prices rise in the future.