Groningen works on the agriculture of the future: ‘Opportunities for the horse bean’

Large cereal and maize fields are part of the typical Dutch landscape. But what does 21st century agriculture look like? Which crops do the future belong to? Northern parties are working together in the innovation program Fascinating from Groningen to find an answer. One of the projects focuses on research into vegetable protein crops. “Who knows, we may soon see fields full of horse beans,” says Tjeerd Jongsma, director of Fascinating.

Groningen is a real agricultural province. Farms have existed here for centuries and there is an extensive agricultural infrastructure. Northern parties now want to renew the food supply further. Within Fascinating (Food Agro Sustainable Circular Nature Technology IN Groningen), agri-food companies such as Agrifirm, Avebe, Cosun and FrieslandCampina work together with knowledge institutions such as the University of Groningen (RUG) on the ultimate goal of making the agricultural sector a future -proof ‘in ten years. : a circular agriculture, which is healthy and sustainable and which also provides a good yield for farmers.

efficiency

Tjeerd Jongsma
Tjeerd Jongsma. Photo: Marc van der Kort

“So far, the agricultural sector has primarily focused on efficiency,” Jongsma explains. ‘It makes sense on the one hand. The world’s population is growing, so more and more food must be produced. But we must also deal with the climate issue, with changing biodiversity and with depletion of the soil. How do we ensure that we produce enough healthy food, while at the same time putting the least strain on the climate, environment and nature, while keeping an eye on the farmers’ earnings model? It is a joint mission in which all parties involved in the program, from across the food supply chain, work together. ”

the field prayer

High-calorie, low-nutrient products undermine long-term health. Therefore, market demand and nutrients for Fascinating are keys to making agriculture sustainable. Proteins are therefore central to the program. These are part of a healthy diet.

In one of the projects, Cosun, a cooperative that processes arable crops and other vegetable raw materials, is investigating which new protein crops offer the most opportunities. Among other things, it is investigated which cultivation is the most profitable. About sixteen different protein-rich crops are currently being researched in four places, including beans, peas, clover, alfalfa, lupine and hemp. The program was introduced in 2021. Meanwhile, the results of the first surveys that companies are conducting.

“These already clearly show that horse beans in particular are a good candidate. So who knows, we may soon see this crop in the fields of the region along with traditional crops like sugar beets, potatoes and cereals, “says Jongsma.

green manure

In addition to these practical experiments, work is being done on several agricultural innovations. The agricultural cooperative Agrifirm is working within the Green Fertilizer Groningen project on developments that will make crop cultivation profitable when the prices of artificial fertilizers and organic fertilizers rise. For example, the possibilities of bringing home-produced nitrogen back in by using legumes or applying cut manure are being explored: crops that are mowed, chopped and used as vegetable fertilizer for a different reason than the one where they grew. .

Proteins in the human body

The program also focuses on scientific research into healthy food. Researchers and students from the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG) and the University of Groningen (RUG) joined the program for this purpose. “How do we take the step from quantity and processed food to a qualitatively better variant? And how can we translate a healthy diet into our agricultural system? These are questions that we need answers to in order to decide what type of food we should produce in the region, “says Jongsma.

flexible

Vegetable proteins are playing an increasingly important role in the Western diet. For example, more than half of Dutch people declare that they are flexitarians these days. “The answer to the question of what healthy food is lies in part in the production of vegetable protein,” says Jongsma. “I believe that the consumption of vegetable products will only increase in the coming years. You can already see it when you walk through the supermarket and see to what extent the shelf of meat substitutes has been expanded in recent years. But animal proteins also remain a part of your diet. We do not yet know which foods, ingredients and supplements ultimately have the greatest strength. Ultimately, the balance between livestock and agriculture ensures healthy food, low emissions and a focus on climate and the environment. ”

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