The recent Crops Forum event provided an opportunity to highlight the research into plant proteins, now ongoing within Teagasc.
Both fava beans are peas are regarded as having significant potential in this regard. The objective, for the most part, is to extract specific components from within these crops for use in the food ingredients’ sector.
Traditionally, the growing of protein crops in Ireland has had a strong animal feed focus.
And, up to a point, this makes sense: The Irish compound feed sector is heavily reliant on imported soya.
However, the added-value opportunities associated with the human nutrition sector may well provide an even more lucrative market outlet for high-quality protein crops that can be grown locally.
Processing these crops is one aspect of these developments. Growing them successfully is a separate challenge. As a result, Teagasc research is seeking to identify the best ways of growing both beans and peas, in order to maximize crop yields and quality.
“This direct transfer of crops into these lower-value markets and the lack of large-scale processing facilities to transform these products into high-value food ingredients mean that farmers are not gaining maximum value for what they already produce very well,” head of Teagasc’s Crop Science Department Ewen Mullins said.
“There is also a need to increase resilience in farming systems to mitigate against increasingly volatile climate patterns and to support farming systems to meet EU strategic objectives.”
With this in mind, Teagasc researchers are leading a Horizon-funded project, VALPRO Path, with the objective of co-creating and demonstrating premium supply chain opportunities for the plant protein industry across Europe.
VALPRO Path will focus on high-yielding protein crops across Ireland, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Portugal.
Crops such as field pea, fava bean, lentil, chickpea, lupine and peanut will be studied in terms of their suitability to specific regions, taking into account issues such as abiotic stress, yield variability and varietal selection.
Within Ireland, Teagasc researchers will focus on intercropping field peas with fava beans to mitigate against the risk of pre-harvest lodging, which is preventing the larger scale cultivation of an important protein crop.
In the context of food processing, VALPRO Path will exploit innovations in the processing and manufacturing of plant proteins into food grade ingredients, such as protein flours and isolates.
Such ingredients will then be used to convey a function in multiple consumer products such as confectionery goods, pastas and nutritional drinks.