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

Crimped lupins for animal feed

Home-grown lupins are expected to play an increasing role in livestock rations following a major research project involving two universities and ten industry partners, including Kelvin Cave Ltd.

The three-year project, whose findings have been reported this spring, has revealed that livestock and poultry given rations containing lupins perform equally well and in some cases better than those fed rations of comparable quality containing soya.

It was also reported that lupins could be grown on most livestock farms across the UK; they could be harvested using a conventional combine without modification; and they could be processed without drying and crimped with Crimpstore, allowing for on-farm storage in a basic clamp. This results in a highly digestible concentrate feed of between 28% and 42% protein, depending on variety.

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

However, lupins can be grown at a cost of around £100/acre and will yield between one and two tonnes per acre depending on variety, making them financially far more attractive than bought-in soya at between £360 and £400 per tonne.

Furthermore, the cost of crimping using a contractor will range from £20 to £25/tonne including the preservative, giving a total cost for a tonne of home-grown, high protein concentrate of between £125 and £150. 

Equally, arable farmers can expect lupins from the field to sell at £260 per tonne, making them an attractive proposition as a cash crop, while also acting as a break from cereals and replenishing soils with a legacy of nitrogen.

Lupins and ‘greening’

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 legumes such as lupins, particularly by arable farmers.

In the face of the newly published results from the ‘Lupins in UK Agriculture and Aquaculture’ project (which was co-funded by Innovate UK and BBSRC) farmers will now be advised that home-grown lupins have the potential to provide ‘soya-grade’ protein.

They will also be told that former barriers to the uptake of the crop – including the limited range of approved herbicides – have been largely overcome.  

Presenting the findings, David McNaughton from protein crop specialist and seed merchant, Soya UK, commented that full approval for an effective post-emergence herbicide was likely to be imminent, and would add an extra layer of insurance for growers.

Furthermore, he said that farmers could be advised with more confidence than before of which variety would be best in their area, with blue and yellow varieties tending to suit the north and west, while the later maturing whites would thrive in the south and east. 

However, he said the key to the uptake of lupins was the wide range of conditions in which they could be grown, ranging from “a dairy farmer at an altitude of 1,000 feet above Penrith” to “an arable farmer in the east on soils with a pH of
up to 7.9”.

“They are more resistant to bad weather than peas or beans; they will grow where there is little option for other crops besides grass and cereals; and if we are to make a hole in the three million tonnes of soya we import, part of the answer is to grow lupins on livestock farms,” he said.

Feeding trials

Feeding trials using lupins also formed part of the project, which involved using the crimped product as part of ruminant diets.

Dr Christina Marley from Aberystwyth University used lupins as part of the finishing diet of lambs and compared their performance with lambs on a commercial finisher.

The trials found no statistical differences in performance between lambs on the two rations, although there was a cost saving of £3.64 per lamb to be gained from feeding the lupin and barley-based ration.

Andy Strzelecki from Kelvin Cave commented that this opened the way for many livestock 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.

Furthermore, he remarked that although the trials only extended to lambs, there was plenty of international evidence supporting lupin use in cattle. “Most dairy production in Australia is based on lupin protein, and there’s no reason why they couldn’t be equally successful for both dairy and beef in the UK,” he said.


Chairing the project was Tony Burgess (pictured below) from Birchgrove Eggs in mid-Wales whose laying hens were also used as part of the research. This 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 were 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.

He confirmed he would be making the switch to lupins as soon as practicably possible, and added: “Within three years, I would like to see the UK countryside being awash with lupins.”

The three year LUKAA research project (Lupins in UK Agriculture and Aquaculture) was funded by 10 industry partners together with Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). 

The collaboration of industry partners comprised: Birchgrove Eggs, Alltech, Alvan Blanch, Ecomarine, Germinal, Kelvin Cave Ltd, PGRO, Soya UK, NIAB TAG and Wynnstay Group PLC, together with Aberystwyth and Plymouth Universities.

Tony and HensLupins: the background behind the drive

  • Lack of UK self-sufficiency for protein
  • The high price of soya as an alternative protein source 
  • Non-GM 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 facts

  • High crude protein feed at 28-42%
  • Desirable amino acid profile
  • Good animal performance and feed conversion
  • Aggressive nitrogen fixer, reducing bagged fertiliser use 
  • Spring lupins are sown in April and harvested in August or September for crimping
  • Easy to process and store on farm 
  • Favourable crop choice for new CAP ‘greening’ rules
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