Legumes cultivation

It is well-know that we need to eat less meat, both for the sake of our health and for our planet. At the same time, we need protein. Legumes (beans, lentils, peas) are both healthy and protein rich alternatives. Furthermore, legumes have the advantage of being able to fix nitrogen directly from the air, which lessens the need for added nitrogen. This is good for the climate due to nitrous oxide being a potent greenhouse gas that is released from arable land that has been fertilized with nitrogen. The production of mineral fertilizers is also very energy intensive. It is also favorable for the seas, since surplus nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus leak into the watercourses and then continue into the seas where they contribute to eutrophication, algae blooms, hypoxia and dead seabeds.

We have to reduce our meat consumption. At the same time, we need protein. (Photo: iStock.com/Gilaxia)

We have to reduce our meat consumption. At the same time, we need protein. (Photo: iStock.com/Gilaxia)

The Issue

The consumption of meat must be reduced if the climate targets are to be met. Meat production contributes to greenhouse emissions both through methane from ruminants (with several stomachs) and from the land used for livestock production. About 70 % of the world’s arable land is used for growing animal feed, but the livestock production only contributes to 18% of the global calorie production and 25 % of the global protein consumption.

Meet from ruminants and from monogastrics

In total, 2.8 kilograms of crops fit for human consumption, such as cereals and legumes, are required to produce 1 kilogram of boneless meat from ruminants, for example cows. The advantage of meat from ruminants is that they largely eat feed that humans cannot eat. However, plant protein fit for human consumption is still used in the production of ruminant meat, which is largely not from natural grazing animals. The biggest disadvantage of meat from ruminants is the high greenhouse gas emissions that the animals emit.

In comparison, a total of 3.2 kilograms of crops fit for human consumption are required to produce 1 kilogram of boneless meat from monogastric animals, such as pigs and birds. These animals emit significantly less greenhouse gases than ruminants and can therefore be perceived as more climate smart. However, they are incredibly resource intensive as they require a greater amount of plant protein fit for human consumption, than they contribute to in terms of animal protein.

It would be possible to get substantially more food from each hectare of arable land if the crop became food instead of feed. Hence, it is not necessarily true that there will not be enough food for a growing population in the future. We must, however, eat differently. Different in a way that is good for both the environment and the climate. An added bonus is that it also makes us healthier.

Open countryside and meat from natural grazing

The grazing cows in Sweden are necessary to keep the countryside open and maintain the biodiversity. There are many advantages with meat from grass fed and pasture-raised animals. They convert plant protein unfit for humans to animal protein that humans can consume, and make use of grassland that isn’t ploughed, sowed, fertilized or cultivated. But far from all Swedish meat comes from natural grazing. Furthermore, almost half of the meat eaten in Sweden is imported and from animals that have been fed cereals and soy, food that could have been used for human consumption.

Our great demand for imported meat indirectly leads to the use of fertile land and water in poor countries going to animal feed instead of food that could have been consumed locally. 60% of the climate emissions from Swedish food consumption today are a result of food we import.

There is an increase in the growth of meat and dairy substitutes, which is positive. However, most of these meat and dairy-like products are made from soy. Soy is a very good crop from a nutritional perspective, but it’s often grown on the other side of the world, since soy doesn’t grow very well in our latitudes, and in a manner which harms both nature and the people involved in the production.

The Solution

There are many legumes that can substitute parts of, or all, the meat consumption and provide enough protein and other important nutrients. The legumes furthermore have the advantage of being able to use nitrogen straight from the air, which lessens the need for added nitrogen, which is also an environmental advantage.

Legumes can substitute meat consumption and provide proteins and other important nutrients.

Legumes can substitute meat consumption and provide proteins and other important nutrients.

Our Work

Axfoundation gathers researchers, farmers, food processers and chefs at Torsåker farm to jointly find, cultivate and use protein crops that can grow in Sweden. We want to find tasty and sustainable food alternatives to meat and decrease our need for imported soy.

Axfoundation tested cultivating sweet lupine of the boregine variety at Torsåker farm during the 2017 growing season. There was at that time limited knowledge about how best to grow lupines in Sweden. Many thought that it wouldn’t actually be possible in Uppland’s clay soil, but we still tried the crop in a number of different growing systems and the results were better than expected. The yield was 3.7 metric tonnes per hectare and the beans had a high protein content of about 36 %.

We identified and tested two more legumes, apart from the sweet lupine, that are especially interesting as food; broad beans and grey peas. The broad bean is today mainly used as animal feed, but is closely related to the fava bean which is an excellent food product. The grey pea has historically been a staple for northerners, but has been phased out as the yellow and green pea was refined and gave better yields.

During 2017 and 2018 Axfoundation has made land available at Torsåker farm for the project MegaLegumes with the aim of evaluating Swedish protein crops as industrial raw materials. RISE, Hushållningssällskapet Väst, Nordisk Råvara AB, Lantmännen Cerealia AB, Veggi AB and So Fungy Ekonomisk förening were behind the project.

The aim of the project was to enable Swedish agriculture to produce plant-based protein from lupine and broad bean, in the long haul and on a large-scale, for human consumption.

One of the four experimental test sites was at Torsåker, the others were located at Lyse, Umeå and Skepparslöv.


Axfoundation has tried cultivating lupine, broad bean and grey pea at Torsåker. We’ve taken what we’ve learnt from these trials with us into new projects with legumes, both as feed and food.

Projects within Future Food