The global plant protein market is valued at over €17 billion per year and is expected to grow steadily over the coming decades.

Currently, Ireland imports almost all of its plant protein from both EU and non-EU countries.

However, Irish tillage farmers achieve some of the highest yields of protein crops, such as peas and beans, in Europe.

This level of performance reflects the soil quality and growing conditions that exist in this country.

One interesting development in recent consumer trends, is the radical increase in plant protein demand within the agri-value chain.

Without doubt, Ireland’s Protein Payment Scheme has catalysed a surge in protein crop cultivation since its introduction almost a decade ago.

Yet, even with this surge in output, protein output proportion remains just a fraction of Ireland’s total tillage output.

The relative absence of mainstream protein crop production and utilisation here in Ireland remains a reality. So, why does this state of affairs exist?

It’s a question that has been addressed by research officer at Teagasc Johnstown Castle, Alan Fahy.

Plant protein

He wonders, if the protein payment were to go away, would the area grown revert back to pre-payment days, which averaged just 3,187ha annually from 2000 to 2014?

Fahy said: “In a world where concerns mount over food security, nutrition, and environmental sustainability, it’s hard to overlook the potential of protein crops to help tackle such issues simultaneously.

“Protein crops have long been known to offer a multitude of benefits to farmers, including enhanced soil fertility, a myriad of ecosystem services, as well as financial savings through reduced fertiliser usage.

“At the same time, there is a growing consumer base demanding more localised, traceable produce with high nutritional value.”

All of this gives rise to the following, further questions.

Is there somewhat of a chicken and egg scenario going on here, whereby farmers are reluctant to grow a crop without a viable market to sell?

And, will the market side not buy into any stringent expansion in the absence of a strong national supply?

“While it’s hard to overlook the place for protein crops in terms of Ireland’s environmental targets, it seems equally as hard to overlook the market opportunities that this globally growing market could grant multiple sectors in Ireland.

“At the moment, however, there is little evidence of organic and symbiotic market growth in the protein crop production-utilisation area at national level,” Fahy added.