EUROPEAN farmers are to be encouraged to grow more plant protein, and help reduce the European Union's dependence on imported livestock feeds.

Speaking in Vienna this week, European Commissioner Phil Hogan outlined the five priorities set by the Commission to increase the production of plant protein in the European Union, reflecting the conclusions of a consultation process which began in early 2018, following years of tension on the European protein food and feed markets.

EU farm union Copa-Cogeca quickly welcomed Mr Hogan's statement, noting that it had been calling for a long-term strategy on this neglected industry segment for some time.

According to DG AGRI’s outlook for agricultural markets for 2017-2030, demand for plant protein is expected to increase, mainly due to growth in specific areas of livestock production, such as poultry. Currently, the EU imports more than 60% of the protein-rich raw plant-based material that it needs to balance livestock feed rations, mainly soya grain and meal from the USA and South America.

This increased demand for high-protein feed material is expected to be met primarily by an increase in protein-rich imports and, hopefully, European production of soya, rapeseed, and alfalfa. Although protein crops have recently seen a strong recovery, the increase in surface area could slow over the forecast period, given the pressure on feed prices and restrictions on the use of inputs on ecological focus areas. In this context, increasing the European plant protein production capacity would result in economic and environmental gains for Europe.

Copa-Cogeca’s secretary general Pekka Pesonen said: “DG AGRI’s overall approach to further developing plant protein in the EU is heading in the right direction, especially in terms of the specific support for farmers through national plans within the future CAP framework and the role of research and innovation in key protein crops.

"Nevertheless, one additional priority to add to the list drawn up by Commissioner Hogan this morning in Vienna is the importance of biofuel by-products, which contribute enormously to securing feed supply across Europe. Strengthening European plant protein production will partly rely on the guarantees offered by a secure and stable framework for European biofuel producers.”