Mole Valley Farmers are running a new field lab to test the viability of growing organic lupins as an alternative source of animal feed.
With the current difficulties in maintaining a regular supply of imported organic protein for animal feed manufacture, lupins may offer a solution.
Lupins are high in protein and can be grown in our temperate climate, reducing feed miles and offering greater self-sufficiency and food security – they’re also great for pollinators. There are benefits for the soil too – lupins are nitrogen fixing legumes so can be included in an arable rotation to reduce the need for fertiliser and improve crop yields. Modern varieties of blue and white lupin give better yields and mature earlier than previous commercial varieties, although consideration will still need to be given to soil type.
Farms taking part in the trial with a high soil pH will have an option to sow Soya instead of lupin. Lupins are more drought tolerant than Soya and require less processing, so they are the preferred crop for the field lab, but soya may do better on chalk downland where some of the group farm. Both crops require an inoculant containing symbiotic bacteria to be drilled with the seed, but lupins can be drilled with a standard cereal drill.
The main issue the group will be looking at is the best way of suppressing weeds. Likely options are comb harrowing, bi-cropping with oats or peas, or under sowing with a white clover/ryegrass ley. Effectiveness of each method will be judged by the density of crop cover compared to weeds.
As this trial is one of the first of its kind, it’s unlikely the group will be able to source organic lupin seed. The group will likely use undressed non-organic seed with a derogation to avoid the seed-borne disease Anthracnose. They will also be using varieties in which the disease is less prevalent.
The researcher supporting the group will be Hannah Jones from the University of Reading, who has been involved in a number of research projects on growing organic legumes. Further meetings are planned with the aim of drilling some trials in the spring.