Grain peas

Protein from the field

Instead of meat, consumers are increasingly turning to substitute products made from vegetable proteins. Our grain peas contribute to this plant-based diet – and growing them also delivers advantages.

It wasn’t too long ago that soy sausages were still a rarity. “There were hardly any other meat substitutes ten years ago,” says Nina Blijdorp, International Product Manager for Oats and Peas at KWS. Since then, Beyond Meat from the U.S. and other makers such as Rügenwalder Mühle from Germany have become increasingly successful in meeting customers’ tastes with their meat substitute products.

It all started with soybeans because they have a high protein content of over 30 percent and are considered neutral in taste. “However, most of the soy available worldwide comes from North and South America. But the trend is towards food that is as regional as possible,” says project manager Christiane von der Ohe. And there was an emerging desire for domestic protein plants as a source of protein.

As a result, the grain pea from KWS’ portfolio with its average protein content of 24 percent has become increasingly important for producers of meat substitutes. In addition to its better environmental footprint compared with imported soy, other properties of this legume are advantageous when it comes to marketing: It is free of gluten, GMOs and allergens and is grown domestically.

Part of the portfolio for 30 years

KWS Cereals has had grain peas in its portfolio since 1990. In 2014, KWS completely took over the French breeding company Momont, with which there had already been a fertile partnership dating back to 1999, when KWS acquired 49 percent of Momont’s capital, and which has also had a breeding program for peas for 30 years. “Fortunately, KWS had the right instinct that protein plants would grow in importance,” says Nina Blijdorp.

Current breeding objectives are to increase the protein content without compromising standing ability and yield. However, it will be equally important to improve the legume’s taste. “This breeding objective is not completely new,” says Christiane von der Ohe. Up to now, grain peas have mainly been used as fodder, “but cows don’t like eating bitter stuff, either.”

Breeding objective: taste

Nevertheless, the grain pea still has a reputation for having that musty, beany taste. To change that “is where we at KWS come in,” says Nina Blijdorp. But not alone: In order to obtain the ideal protein functionality through breeding, for example, close dialogue with producers is a must, because their processes play an important role in the quality of the end product.

KWS is the leader in the European grain pea market, mainly because of its strong position in France and the UK. KWS has its own breeding activities in these two countries and Germany, as well as in markets such as Scandinavia, the Baltic States, the U.S. and Spain, where grain pea seed is sold under license. “Even if the trend seems huge, grain peas remain a niche,” says Nina Blijdorp. By way of comparison: While wheat is grown on almost three million hectares in Germany, grain pea is cultivated on around 100,000 hectares.

But there is also potential for that figure to increase, because legumes like grain peas have the ability to absorb nitrogen from the air. “That means they don’t need extra nitrogen to grow.” The stored nitrogen also remains in the soil after harvesting. “Legumes are ideal for extended crop rotations,” says Christiane von der Ohe. The subsequent crops require less fertilizer, which in turn makes it easier for farmers to comply with politically mandated fertilizer ordinances.

Christiane von der Ohe has compiled facts like these for a new info graphic. It is part of the series that began with rye in 2017 and continued with wheat (2018), barley (2019) and catch crops (2021). |

Christiane von der Ohe

Nina Blijdorp

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