Every year, the Lantmännen Research Foundation holds a Foundation Day. In spring 2023 it highlighted trends, research and practices in the field of protein – from cultivation to its use in animal feed, food and materials.
Agriculture is necessary for the production of protein. The foundation for quality is laid during growth, and we have come some way here, particularly in developing technology – essential for sustainable and efficient production. One example is the development of sensors for precision farming, so crops get the right nutrition for optimal bread quality. In developing animal feed, protein quality and the availability of essential amino acids are vital. Circularity is a focus of research, and various side streams from fields, forests and the sea are evaluated as potential sources of protein, supplementing traditional raw ingredients. Pasture grass is our biggest crop and a protein source full of potential.
Pasture grass is our biggest crop and a protein source full of potential.
Ruminants, such as cows and sheep, utilise protein from grass, which monogastric animals such as pigs and poultry are unable to do in the same way. Using grass protein in feed for pigs and poultry has an exciting potential that is now being explored in several research projects. There is great interest in plant-based proteins in human food, not least as ingredients in new green foods. Research into proteins in milk and meat, and how they are used, has come a long way compared to that for plant proteins. The properties of proteins from the plant and animal kingdoms differ significantly. For example, producing a plant-based drink with the same protein level as milk is challenging. More knowledge is necessary if new foods based on plant proteins are to be a natural element of popular, everyday foods.
More knowledge is necessary if new foods based on plant proteins are to be a natural element of popular, everyday foods.
Cereals and legumes contain many valuable components in addition to protein, such as starch, fat and fibre, which can also be refined and used as ingredients. In the materials field, research shows that processing wheat gluten can create biodegradable material with a good absorption capacity. Could the nappies of the future grow in fields? Cereals and legumes have long been an important element in animal feed and our food, but the question is how this will look in the future. We will probably see new and improved crops and a wider range of uses. Important insights from the day were that sometimes protein quality is more important than protein level, and that there is a great need for continued research and innovation.
Text: Helena Fredriksson and Karin Arkbåge, Lantmännen R&D