Red clover research could help reduce soya imports

Mr Jim Vale, Germinal with Dr Ana Winters and Professor Joe Gallagher IBERS Aberystwyth University in the red clover trial plots at Gogerddan

Mr Jim Vale, Germinal with Dr Ana Winters and Professor Joe Gallagher IBERS Aberystwyth University in the red clover trial plots at Gogerddan

12 October 2021

Aberystwyth University researchers are exploring how an eco-friendly crop could be bred to reduce the need for soya feed imports and nitrogen-based fertiliser.

Red clover, with its reddish-pink flowers, is native to Europe, and a common feature of lawns and parks.

A new project at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) is looking at new uses of the plant to both tackle climate change and support the nation’s health.

Red clover is a high-quality, protein-rich forage feed for cattle and sheep. It could help replace imported soybean feed, over two million tons of which was imported into the UK in 2017/18.

The project is looking at bio-refining red clover forage to provide a source of home-grown protein for farm livestock, mainly poultry and pigs.

The research will focus on preserving protein quality and maximising yields of these target products. The protein will be fed to chickens and compared with soya fed chickens to demonstrate its potential as a soya protein replacement.

As well as the environmental benefits, such an approach could potentially create jobs in the agriculture, food and biotechnology sectors in Wales and beyond.

Professor Joe Gallagher from Aberystwyth University, who leads the project, explained:

”Red clover can be grown across the whole of Wales and the UK. We will select and cross-breed the plant to introduce beneficial traits and enhance its existing ones. The outcome of this breeding scheme will be bespoke red clover varieties specifically for biorefining with protein and high value compounds.”

“Improving the protein quality of red clover through innovative plant breeding can be a key long-term strategic driver to reduce our reliance on imports.

“Extracting protein from red clover can also bring direct economic benefits to farmers as a ‘cash crop’ by producing protein for animal feed. It has the added benefit of reducing the growing UK protein deficit.

“Red clover can fix atmospheric nitrogen thereby reducing the need for mineral nitrogen fertiliser, and improving soil fertility and structure. As a perennial crop, it captures sunlight throughout the year, depositing carbon from the atmosphere into the soil.”

The academics are also investigating ways to further increase the crop’s value as a health supplement, including looking at compounds with hormonal properties and sugar alcohols.

These build-up in red clover in fairly high levels and are currently used in a range of health supplements including antidiabetics and those that address the symptoms of menopause.

This RC Promo project is funded by Welsh Government through SMART expertise and benefits from the expertise of the BEACON biorefining team at Aberystwyth University in a partnership alongside Germinal Holdings LTD, and Blue Sky Botanics.