Grain Legume Production and Use in European Agricultural Systems

Christine A. Watson*, Moritz Reckling, Sara Preissel, Johann Bachinger, Göran Bergkvist, Tom Kuhlman, Kristina Lindström, Thomas Nemecek, Cairistiona F.E. Topp, Aila Vanhatalo, Peter Zander, Donal Murphy-Bokern, Fred L. Stoddard

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

170 Citations (Scopus)


There is a great demand for high-protein materials for livestock feed in Europe and European agriculture has a deficit of about 70% high-protein materials of which 87% is met by imported soybean and soy meal. This reflects the fact that grain legumes are currently under represented in European agriculture and produced on only 1.5% of the arable land in Europe compared with 14.5% on a worldwide basis. Several grain legumes have the potential to replace at least some of the soya currently used in the diets of monogastric animals, ruminants, and fish. There are also opportunities for greater use of legumes in new foods. Here we review the contribution of ecosystem services by grain legumes in European agriculture starting with provisioning services in terms of food and feed and moving on to the contribution they make to both regulating and supporting services which are in part due to the diversity which these crops bring to cropping systems. We explore the need to understand grain legume production on the time scale of a rotation rather than a cropping season in order to value and manage the agronomic challenges of weed, pests, and diseases alongside the maintenance or improvement of soil structure, soil organic matter, and nutrient cycling. A review of policy interventions to support grain legumes reveals that until very recently these have failed to make a difference in Europe. We contrast the European picture with the interventions that have allowed the development of grain legume production in both Canada and Australia. Whether farmers choose to grow more legumes will depend on market opportunities, the development of supply chains, and policy support as well as technical improvements of grain legume production such as breeding of new varieties and management development to improve yield stability. However, to really increase the production of grain legumes in Europe, the issues are far more wide reaching than agronomy or subsidy and require a fundamental rethinking of value chains to move grain legumes from being niche products to mainstream commodities.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in Agronomy
EditorsD.L. Sparks
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages69
ISBN (Print)9780128124192
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Publication series

NameAdvances in Agronomy
ISSN (Print)0065-2113


  • Agricultural policy
  • Crop rotations
  • Ecosystem services
  • Livestock feed
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Systems analysis


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