The power of plant protein
Teagasc [Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority] researchers are leading a project to create and demonstrate improved supply-chain opportunities for the European plant protein industry.
The plant protein industry in Europe is poised for improvement, and Teagasc researchers are leading the charge. Current production systems focus heavily on the production of feedstock for direct transfer into animal sectors in an attempt to counter the EU’s over-dependency on imported feed.
Head of Teagasc’s Crop Science department, Ewen Mullins, explains: “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. 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.
A focus on high-yield crops
VALPRO Path will focus on high-yielding protein crops in five European pedo-climatic regions across Ireland, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Portugal. Crops such as field pea, fava bean, lentil, chickpea, lupin 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 beyond state-of-the-art 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, nutritional drinks and many more.
Innovative production systems
With a focus on underpinning economic value for all actors in the supply chain, VALPRO Path will demonstrate and evaluate potential business models across five multi-stakeholder ‘living lab’ innovation production systems (IPSs).
Research officer in Teagasc’s Crop Science department, Richard Lynch, explains: “Each IPS will validate specific components of the supply chain from production to end-product formulation, addressing topics such as on-farm processing, nutrient tracking, life cycle assessment, logistics and packaging. Each IPS will also provide robust evidence of the social, economic, environmental and health benefits of plant protein production systems, thereby delivering a stronger ecosystem for plant protein production in Europe.”
Based on the principles of co-creation, innovation and demonstration, VALPRO Path aims to design, validate and deliver sustainable and competitive plant protein cropping systems and value chains. The result will be more than 10 new, circular sustainable business models, showing how focussed research can come into practice.
• Ewen Mullins, head of Crop Science Department, Teagasc Oak Park.
• Richard Lynch, research officer, Crop Science Department, Teagasc Oak Park.
The VALPRO Path project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 101059824. For regular project updates please visit the project website at:www.valpropath.eu