Transitions to greater legume inclusion in cropland: Defining opportunities and estimating benefits for the nitrogen economy

Geoffrey R. Squire*, Nora Quesada, Graham S. Begg, Pietro P.M. Iannetta

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Grain legumes have declined to a low base in many regions of intensified agriculture yet have the potential both to safeguard food security and satisfy rising ethical demands from food consumers. Here, the scope for legume expansion is examined in a long-established agricultural region in eastern Scotland where grain legumes declined to <0.3% of cropped area in the 1930s and now vary around 1%. Data from the EU's Integrated Administrative and Control System (IACS) were combined with national agricultural survey to resolve uncertainties over possible restrictions to expansion following 20th-century intensification. The grain legumes, peas and beans for animal and human consumption, were found to occupy six crop-grass systems covering a wide range of agronomic input and geographical location. The phase of agricultural intensification between 1950 and 1990 had widened rather than restricted the systems in which they occur and could expand. Moreover, the diversity of the crop-grass systems provides scope for complementary expansion of several products such as beans for aquaculture, pulses for human consumption, and peas for stockfeed without diminishing the areas of the most profitable crops. Among crop systems, N inputs following 20% legume inclusion would fall from the current 178 to 140 kg/ha (78.6%) at the high-input end of the range and from 92 to 71 kg/ha (77.0%) at the low-input end. Further reductions to 50%–60% of the existing N input to intensive crop sequences were estimated assuming a residual fixed nitrogen of 50–75 kg/ha and legume inclusion of 33%. Legume expansion would also bring a range of environmental benefits across all crop-grass systems. While analysis using IACS brought many insights, major limitations to estimating national N-balances were identified in lack of data on residual N following legumes, in imported animal feed and in the contribution of forage legumes to grassland.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00175
JournalFood and Energy Security
Volume8
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Integrated Administration and Control System
  • legumes
  • nitrogen fixation
  • pulses
  • sustainable agriculture

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