Trade Talk

103590Guest blog post by Gerd Spelsberg from i-bio – Information Biosciences

Let’s have no more soya bean imports, but instead cultivate our own feed supplies in Germany. To achieve this we must ask where the extra agricultural land necessary will come from?

European agriculture depends on the import of large amounts of soya animal feed. Without this, meat production at the present level would no longer be possible.

There is a great deal of criticism of this dependence on soya imports from North and South America. Many people are therefore promoting national protein strategies in European agricultural policy. In Germany, for example, there are ambitious programmes in almost every state promoting the domestic cultivation of protein-rich fodder crops, such as soya beans, lupins, field beans or field peas. Politicians give the impression that it is possible to become independent of soya imports.

Every year, Germany imports of between around three to four million tons of soya beans and around two million tons of soya meal, mainly from Brazil.

But is this possible? Is there enough additional space in Europe to replace the import of soya by the production of our own fodder? Within the framework of the Plants.Research.Ethics project, we have calculated various scenarios for this using the example of Germany – not as exact calculations, but in order to show the orders of magnitude and the relationships.

Every year, Germany imports of between around three to four million tons of soya beans and around two million tons of soya meal, mainly from Brazil. There, an area of around 2.3 million hectares of cultivated land is needed for this.

Soya beans need a warm, humid climate, such as that on the Upper Rhine or the Danube region. Under optimal conditions, yields could be achieved there that are slightly higher than those in South America. Most of the other regions in Germany are hardly suitable for the cultivation of soya beans, however. Although there are breeding programmes – mostly with public funding – to adapt soya beans for regions with colder climates, field trials in Northern Germany produced yields that were 30 to 50 percent lower than in the south.

However, in calculating our land-requirement estimate, we have optimistically assumed surface yields for Germany that are similar to those actually achieved in Brazil. This means: in order to replace the soya imports by cultivation in Germany, an additional area of 2.3 million hectares will be required. Leaving aside for a moment the challenge of finding suitable climatic conditions in Germany, where can an area of land this big be found in our densely populated country? Should we clear the forests, or create new soya fields in protected natural areas? By comparison: the total agricultural area in Germany is currently 16.7 million hectares, of which 4.6 million hectares are permanent pasture [1].

Despite all the efforts being made to promote a national protein strategy in Germany – soya bean imports will not be replaced very quickly.

Even more additional area would be required if the imported protein fodder was to be replaced by sweet lupins. Sweet lupins can also be cultivated in the cooler northern parts of Germany, but provide considerably lower yields than soya beans. An additional 5 million hectares would have to be cleared for lupins [2].

It has not been taken into account here that the protein quantity is higher for soya, and that the protein quality is better than for lupins – and also higher than other native protein plants, such as field peas or field beans. And it’s no coincidence that areas with legumes, such as lupins or field peas, have been declining steadily for some years. 165,000 hectares of field peas were still being cultivated in 1999, but only 37,000 hectares in 2013. At the moment, lupins are growing on 30,000 hectares, while, in the wake of a massive promotion programme in 2014, the area of soya bean cultivation has risen to nearly 10,000 hectares.

As you see therefore, the sum of all these factors leads to only one logical conclusion: despite all the efforts being made to promote a national protein strategy in Germany – soya bean imports will not be replaced very quickly.

[1] Scenario: No fodder from South America – Replacement by soya cultivation in Germany
[2] Scenario: No fodder from South America – Replacement by lupin cultivation in Germany

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  1. Gerd Spelsberg, thank you for your note. I am intrigued at this issue for it appears that you in Germany have the same issues as we do in the UK and as my colleagues also have in “other countries” and “local areas” adjoining.

    As we all appear to be relying on these commodities and these “commodities” – as we may call them are very interesting for us to use as both “food stuffs” and “other purposes” might we make a suggestion to you. Had you thought of at least redressing the supply and the issues as part of the wider issues.

    The first would be to address the use of soya for Diesel. We can manage this fairly easily by a process route we have under our control.

    You raise the second through an interrogative questioning around alternative materials (nput) one of which you name. How about looking at others that can be grown in local countries, and arranged through mutual environmental issues. Your Lupin issue I felt was a “red herring” but there are others!

    Your thoughts?


    1. Peter, thank you for your remarks.
      Dual use of commodities: This is an important idea. That plays a role in rapeseed now. Rapeseed is processed both to bioethanol as well as to feed. Or: If more raw materials are imported for biofuels, there are more feed as a byproduct. This area is no longer required. See this scenario:×597.png
      Cultivation of lupin: This is not a realistic scenario for Germany we wanted to show that any alternative protein crops – lupins, beans or peas – need much more space than soybean.

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