Will old remedies rebalance a longstanding EU feed protein deficit?

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Each time I see a new report on the EU decade old feed protein deficit, I wonder whether I’d finally find a comprehensive analysis assorted by a set of workable solutions.

Unfortunately that is not the case. The latest Commission Report in date, from late 2018, other reports and joint Member States Declarations, do little more than rehearse old remedies.

The problem can be summarized in the following way. The feed protein deficit is acute, in particular in the high-protein segment, where the EU suffers from a 71% deficit in crude feed protein.

Looking more in depth to which crops are in higher deficit, according to the latest Commission Report:

“Depending on the protein source, the EU’s self-sufficiency rate varies substantially (rapeseed 79 %, sunflower 42 %, soya 5 %). As a consequence, the EU imports annually around 17 million tonnes of crude proteins (of which 13 million tonnes are soya based and equal to 30 million tonnes of soya bean equivalent); mainly from Brazil, Argentina and the USA. The EU also imports 1.5 million tonnes of crude protein from sunflower and up to one million tonnes of rapeseed, both mostly from the Ukraine.”

This deficit was even higher before. Again the Commission Report states: “For rapeseed — the main EU-grown oilseed — the area has increased by 66 %, from 4.1 to 6.8 million ha between 2003 and 2018. EU production has reached 20 million tonnes ˗ mainly driven by the demand for biodiesel (Renewable Energy Directive). Its by-product (rapeseed meal) is an important source of protein-rich feed. The main rapeseed producers are, France, Germany and Poland.”

Therefore the bright spot in the Commission Report is the development of rapeseed for the production of biodiesel.

Let’s recall that we only source 29% domestically. Of the 29% we do source domestically, from the EU feed protein balance sheet it appears that most of it (85%) comes from the biofuels sector (DDGS from maize, and rapeseed meal).

Now that we have the key fact, back to the remedies proposed, report after report, and declaration after declaration: developing the production of legumes (pulses, soya and leguminous fodder (alfalfa, clover)), through increased research and often through coupled aids.

Mind you, legumes are great from an agronomic and environmental viewpoint. But legumes pose an economic problem. Quoting from the same Commission Report:” Production systems of many legumes are comparatively demanding and legumes suffer from yield gaps and higher yield variability compared to cereals or rapeseed.” Farmers know that, and Commission officials know that, but they insist the solution is to overcome those gaps in spite of decades of failure.

What is really puzzling is that the practically sole bright spot is not part of the remedies put forward so far. I am speaking of the by-products of production of biofuels from maize and rapeseed – DDGS and rapeseed meal. That is the segment that helped reducing the deficit.

Why not lifting the current restraints to the sustainable production of biofuels from EU crops? Biofuel production is now practically frozen by the Renewable Energy Directive. Production could be boosted, as demand for sustainable biofuels in transport is bound to increase to meet the GHG and Renewable Energy targets. The new Green Deal increases the level of ambition and pushes the targets up. Production of biofuels could increase whilst respecting all the stringent EU sustainability criteria.

That would really contribute to reduce the EU feed protein deficit. We know it works, this should be the remedy that would finally work.