The Irish Grain Growers’ Group (IGGG) has called for an increase in funding for the Protein Aid Scheme for the 2020 season.

The group wants the Government to guarantee a minimum figure of €350/ha to bring the payment close to 2019 levels.

A statement from the group added that this is “to ensure that the area for next year increases”.

The IGGG also called for land where combi-cropping includes a legume to be added to the scheme.

The group stated that there is scope to further fund protein payments as part of the Farm to Fork Strategy, adding that “we should be aiming to double the current area within five years to reduce our reliance on imported GM [genetically modified] proteins and reduce carbon emissions”.

Whilst the tillage sector has been almost forgotten about in Irish agricultural policy over the past decade, one of the few success stories of Irish agriculture over the last four years has been the coupled protein payment that includes beans, peas and lupins.

The IGGG outlined that approximately 3,500ha of protein crops were planted in 2014.

In 2015, when the protein payment began that figure rose to 10,700ha. Preliminary figures from the Department of Agriculture show the area at almost 13,800ha in 2020.

‘A very low spend’

Secretary of the IGGG, Clive Carter, told AgriLand: “It has been a very positive scheme for tillage farmers over the past couple of years and if the Government is trying to hit the 7% reduction in emissions this is the low-hanging fruit.

Beans are great for biodiversity. There are lower inputs, lower chemical inputs and they’re a nitrogen fixing crop.

Clive also commented that bringing the payment up to €350/ha would cost approximately €1.5 million extra, bringing the total cost of the scheme to €4.5 million, which he noted “is a very low spend in comparison to other sectors”.

Clive outlined how protein crops tick a lot of boxes when it comes to goals of strategies like the EU’s Farm to Fork and the Programme for Government. The push for home-grown protein can be increased with support and the benefits of carbon sequestration and an improvement in biodiversity will follow after.

He also noted that there’s room for other crops to be added to similar schemes and suggested oilseed rape as one crop that may benefit from support, while benefiting the environment as well.

Benefits of increasing the protein crop area

The IGGG pointed out that the benefits of increasing the protein area and the payment are more than just financial to the farmer.

Protein crops provide an extra break crop for the farmer and fix nitrogen in the soil. Most straw from beans and peas is chopped which adds carbon back to the soil.

The IGGG noted: “There is also a reduction in chemical use and increased biodiversity and pollinators. Beans and peas are excellent for pollinators such as bees, ladybirds and insects.”

Support from mills

There is support for home-grown protein in the animal feed sector and the IGGG stated “merchants have now altered their feed rations to include more Irish proteins and some are actively seeking crops to develop an all-Irish GM-free ration”.

“The average soybean yield in the US is around 1.5t/ac (54% protein). Irish beans can compare very favourably, producing plant-based proteins at up to 3t/ac (23% protein).”

However, the IGGG added that “more research is crucial on varieties and systems as yields currently vary”.

2019 protein payment

In 2019, 740 applicants received a payment of €365/ha and a total of 8,093ha of protein crops which were eligible for the scheme were planted. The payments came from a total budget made available of €3 million.