Inter­view: Using more home-grown sources of pro­tein.

Alexan­der Döring, sec­re­tary gen­er­al of FEFAC (the Euro­pean Feed Man­u­fac­tur­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion), on reduc­ing the pro­tein gap.

The Fur­row: Mr Döring, what is the sta­tus of pro­tein sup­ply in Euro­pean live­stock farm­ing?

Alexan­der Döring: In many pro­tein groups our auton­o­my rate is very high, for exam­ple it’s almost 100% in roughage, green fod­der and grain with up to 15% pro­tein con­tent. The debate about the pro­tein gap is only about high­ly con­cen­trat­ed pro­tein sources between 30% and 50%, which in essence are rape­seed and soy­abean meal. We’re at 29% auton­o­my there, but the trend we’re see­ing is gen­er­al­ly pos­i­tive.

So is the deficit in this pro­tein group not prob­lem­at­ic?

In my view the gap is not the prob­lem in and of itself. But we shouldn’t be mak­ing our­selves depen­dent on one or two export coun­tries. What we should be doing is spread­ing the depen­den­cy so we can bet­ter absorb price shocks on world mar­kets. The impor­tant thing is that we have mar­ket access to both domes­tic and inter­na­tion­al sup­pli­ers.

We need to have as com­pre­hen­sive a range of prod­ucts as pos­si­ble.

We need to have as com­pre­hen­sive a range of prod­ucts as pos­si­ble. For exam­ple, we are cur­rent­ly pur­chas­ing large vol­umes from neigh­bour­ing coun­tries around the Black Sea. That’s not the EU, but it is a start.

What is the scope for cul­ti­vat­ing soy­abeans in Europe?

Italy has been the largest pro­duc­er for years. We don’t expect any major increase there owing to the agro­nom­ic cir­cum­stances. In oth­er neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, like Roma­nia, Hun­gary and Poland, we def­i­nite­ly see the oppor­tu­ni­ty to increase acreage. The non-GM pro­tein mar­ket is bound to be an impor­tant focus for Euro­pean pro­duc­ers want­i­ng to become more inde­pen­dent of import­ed pro­teins. This niche in the mar­ket could prove to be the dri­ving force behind the expan­sion of cultivation. This may well be on a rel­a­tive­ly low lev­el, but of course we are always hap­py to hear of any offers com­ing from the mem­ber states.

And for pro­tein plants gen­er­al­ly?

It’s very impor­tant to use more home-grown sources of pro­tein. There is a great desire in Brus­sels and many mem­ber states to do more in this regard. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has already not­ed in its lat­est pro­tein report that the acreage devot­ed both to soy­abean cultivation and oth­er legumes has already expand­ed sig­nif­i­cant­ly over the past few years thanks to the exist­ing mech­a­nisms pro­vid­ed by the CAP.

It’s very impor­tant to use more home-grown sources of pro­tein. There is a great desire in Brus­sels and many mem­ber states to do more in this regard.

I think the issue will be con­sid­ered a high­er pri­or­i­ty in the agri­cul­tur­al pol­i­cy con­text after 2020. There is def­i­nite­ly greater room for pro­tein plants as catch crops in the agri­cul­tur­al sec­tor, since the part they play in crop rota­tion, for exam­ple for soil fer­til­i­ty, is often under­es­ti­mat­ed.

Are oilseeds still mak­ing the largest con­tri­bu­tion to the high-pro­tein sec­tor?

Yes, they are going to play the main role in this sec­tor for years to come – cou­pled with the pro­duc­tion of sus­tain­able ener­gies. Rape­seed still, but sun­flow­ers are also a major focus. Sun­flower meal is now avail­able in a qual­i­ty that is prac­ti­cal­ly equal to that of soy­abean meal thanks to advances in pro­cess­ing. Advances in breed­ing and pro­cess­ing will fur­ther improve its digestibil­i­ty.

Is there any poten­tial in ani­mal breed­ing?

Many sci­en­tists argue that ani­mal and plant breed­ing will have to be tied more close­ly togeth­er. Up to now, much of this has run in par­al­lel with­out ever com­ing into con­tact. How­ev­er, the ide­al util­i­sa­tion of pro­tein sources is an issue affect­ing the inter­ac­tion between advances in both these fields, with research into ani­mal nutri­tion act­ing as the link between them. There is still a lot of untapped poten­tial here.