‘Superfeed’ lupin will provide soya-grade protein from UK farms

19 March 2015

IBERS scientists proved that growing lupins provides a viable alternative source of soya-grade protein for animal and fish feeds in the UK.
IBERS scientists proved that growing lupins provides a viable alternative source of soya-grade protein for animal and fish feeds in the UK.

Scientists at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) have proved that growing lupins provides a viable alternative source of soya-grade protein for animal and fish feeds in the UK.

This is the conclusion of the three year LUKAA research project (Lupins in UK Agriculture and Aquaculture) funded by 10 industry partners and co-funded by Innovate UK and the BBSRC. Following newly published results from the project, farmers will be advised that home-grown lupins have the potential to provide soya-grade protein.

The potential for home-grown lupins to replace imported soya in livestock, poultry and aquaculture concentrate feeds has been made clear through the three year project which has revealed that livestock, poultry and fish given rations containing lupins perform equally well and in some cases better than those fed rations of comparable quality containing soya.

Professor Nigel Scollan, Waitrose Chair of Sustainable Agriculture at IBERS and the Principal Investigator on this research project said: “The UK and Europe have major issues with protein security within the livestock and fish sectors and are heavily dependent on imported soya. Our research findings here have proven that we can increase the amount of protein that can be grown here in the UK, with proven practical and economic benefits to producers.”  

The aim of the project was to look at sweet (edible) lupins which are high in protein, as a viable UK-grown alternative protein source to go into animal and fish feeds to replace as far as possible, and ideally up to 100%, the soya protein component.

Professor Nigel Scollan added: “The three main varieties - white, yellow and narrow-leafed - offered crude protein levels of 28-42% and a more favourable amino acid profile than either beans or peas.

“There is clear evidence that lupins could help as a replacement for soya with no compromise to performance.”

This has far-reaching implications for the food and farming industry, where imported soya has long been a key source of protein in animal feeds.

However, there have been barriers to the uptake of crops such as lupins, including the lack of an infrastructure between farms and the feed-milling industry, the limited range of approved herbicides and possibly even a lack of confidence amongst farmers that lupins can match the animal performance of soya.

But many of these concerns have been laid to rest by these findings whose publication coincides with some broader political and economic factors which could help drive the lupin-growing industry forward.

These include the increasing unacceptability and cost of importing soya, the declining availability of non-genetically modified (GM) soya and a widespread desire to improve UK food security in the face of volatile international markets.

A further significant impetus to the uptake of lupins is expected to come from the Common Agricultural Policy whose new ‘greening’ rules will be compulsory for those in receipt of the ‘Basic Payment’ which comes into effect this year.

Although the impact of these rules will vary from farm to farm, there will be a general trend towards more crop diversification which will encourage the growth of crops such as lupins, particularly by arable farmers.

Lupins in poultry feed
Chairing the project was Tony Burgess from Birchgrove Eggs in mid-Wales whose laying hens were used as part of the research under the direction of Aberystwyth University.

The research on his farm showed that replacing soya with lupins in a diet of otherwise comparable composition gave exactly the same performance in terms of egg production and weight from slightly lower intakes of feed.

“This suggests a feed efficiency response,” said Mr Burgess, who calculated a potential feed-cost saving of £4,000 per annum if the lupins replaced soya in entirety across his 3,000-bird unit.”

Furthermore, he remarked that the ‘redness’ of the yolks was found to increase, the manure was drier and more friable and at 37 weeks, his birds had 100% feather cover – all of which are highly desirable.

“From one sceptical Welsh farmer, lupins have exceeded all of my expectations and in my mind should be branded a ‘superfeed’,” he said.

Performance in ruminants
Further trials at Aberystwyth studied the process of producing and storing home-grown lupins on the farm and using the product in a ‘crimped’ form as part of ruminant diets.

Dr Christina Marley from Aberystwyth University used lupins which were harvested in August as part of the finishing diet of lambs. Comparing performance with lambs on a commercial finisher diet, she said there were no statistical differences in performance and that home-grown crimped lupins could be used in lamb rations.

Andy Strzelecki from feed preservation specialist, Kelvin Cave Ltd, explained that this opened the way for many UK farmers to grow lupins for home use, since the crimping process - which is widely used to preserve moist cereals at a high feed value - required no drying or specialist storage facilities.

“Lupins are harvested with a combine and are easily crimped and preserved on-farm by a contractor, and can be stored in an ordinary clamp in a similar way to silage,” he said.

Lupins in aquaculture                                                              
The performance of lupins in aquaculture - an industry which has rapidly grown in scale to eclipse that of beef production - was perhaps the most promising of all.

Professor Simon Davies from Plymouth University said his trials revealed better feed conversion efficiency, growth rates and mineral utilisation in some species of fish, and he said that adding enzymes to the feed (SynergenTM from Alltech) improved its utilisation.

“Lupins are a very effective substitute for soyabean meal but adding a cocktail of enzymes had an even more beneficial effect,” he said.

Overcoming the barriers
However, despite the performance potential of lupins, barriers to their uptake by the UK’s farmers have to be overcome.

John Cussans from NIAB TAG said options for weed control needed further exploration and full approval for use in lupins was needed for a wider range of herbicides.

However, he said the trials had identified herbicides which were suitable for use in lupins and that these - together with inter-row spraying - meant that weed control was less of a barrier than in the past.

David McNaughton from Soya UK said it was a ‘minor tragedy’ that arable farmers were not growing such aggressive nitrogen fixers as a cash crop and added: “We can now advise farmers more accurately than before on the correct variety of lupin for their area.

“Lupins are a far more attractive option today for the arable farmer than only a year ago,” he added.

Furthermore, he said: “Most dairy production in Australia is based on lupin protein but this project has confirmed the cloud that’s dogged us for years over whether lupins really are that good - and the answer is ‘yes they are’.”

However, he regretted: “Because the market demand is not there we find ourselves in a classic chicken and egg situation because the feed sector has not said they will buy thousands of tonnes.”

However, Emyr Jones from Wynnstay suggested the feed manufacturer would be likely to allocate a raw material bin to lupins if an annual commitment from growers could be given of at least 2,000 tonnes.

“Every time we look at a product we have to know we will have it for the duration,” he said, adding that Wynnstay could be expected to start using lupins in poultry feed and move on to other livestock species.

However, he said the move had to be driven by retailers who should encourage the use of home-grown proteins.

“We have to talk to the retailers and tell them that we have the answer to protein security but it has to be a team effort,” he said.

Tony Burgess said he would be making the switch for his poultry as soon as practicably possible, and added: “Within three years, I would like to see the UK countryside being awash with lupins.”

See boxes below:

Lupins: the background behind the drive

  • Lack of UK self-sufficiency for protein
  • The high price of soya as an alternative protein source
  • Non-genetically modified soya increasingly difficult and costly to obtain
  • A long, international supply chain and provenance doubts over soya
  • Exposure to increasingly volatile world markets by reliance on soya
  • A widespread desire to improve UK food security
  • An anticipated demand from retailers for home-produced protein in animal feed

Lupins: the key benefits

  • High crude protein feed at 28-48%
  • Desirable amino acid profile
  • Good animal performance and feed conversion
  • Aggressive nitrogen fixer, reducing bagged fertiliser use
  • Easy to process and store on farm
  • Favourable crop choice for new CAP ‘greening’ rules
  • Potential cash crop for arable farmers
  • Short supply chain and known provenance when UK grown
  • Significant by-product market for hulls in pharmaceutical industry

* The three year LUKAA research project (Lupins in UK Agriculture and Aquaculture) represents a collaboration between industry partners: Birchgrove Eggs, Alltech, Alvan Blanch, Ecomarine, Germinal, Kelvin Cave Ltd, PGRO, Soya UK, NIAB TAG and Wynnstay Group PLC with Aberystwyth and Plymouth Universities.

Innovate UK
Innovate UK is the new name for the Technology Strategy Board – the UK’s innovation agency. Taking a new idea to market is a challenge. Innovate UK funds, supports and connects innovative businesses through a unique mix of people and programmes to accelerate sustainable economic growth. For further information visit https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/innovate-uk

The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) is an internationally recognised research and teaching centre providing a unique base for research in response to global challenges such as food security, bioenergy and sustainability, and the impacts of climate change. IBERS scientists conduct basic, strategic and applied research from genes and molecules to organisms and the environment.

IBERS receives strategic research funding of £10.5m from the BBSRC to support long term mission driven research, and is a member of the National Institutes of Bioscience. IBERS also benefits from financial support from the Welsh Government, DEFRA and the European Union.


Back to the top


Liz Humphreys
Project Manager, IBERS
Aberystwyth University
01970 823072 / elh20@aber.ac.uk

Professor Nigel Scollan
Aberystwyth University
01970 823075 / ngs@aber.ac.uk

Dawn Havard
IBERS Communications
Aberystwyth University
01970 628440 / 07779 645598 / dbh@aber.ac.uk

Arthur Dafis
Communications, Marketing and Public Affairs
Aberystwyth University
01970 621763 / 07841 979 452 / aid@aber.ac.uk