Innovative pea protein project aims to break soya habit

A £1m Innovate UK project that aims to have a significant impact on reducing the need for UK imports of soya has been announced today.

The ‘Pea Protein’ project is a collaboration between Germinal, a grass and forage seed specialists, and seed breeders, using a discovery made by John Innes Centre scientists 30 years ago.

The gene for flavourless peas was first identified in the 1990s by scientists including Professor Claire Domoney, however the research was stopped. At the time there was no use for it, now it could be the basis of a new industry.

“The world has changed. People increasingly want plant-based protein in their diets rather than from animals. So flavourless peas have suddenly become flavour of the day,” said Professor Claire Domoney.

The UK imports approximately 4 million tonnes of soya every year, which is used for human and animal feeds, with half a million tonne used for vegan and vegetarian foods, according to Innovate UK.

Germinal’s climate smart approach is to produce a reliable UK grown protein source that can replace soya in human foods, and they believe pea protein can be the solution. Peas are suited to the UK climate, are environmentally friendly, boost soil health by fixing free nitrogen from the air and even leave some in the ground for the next crop.

Germinal Horizon, the company’s Research and Innovation division will collaborate with the John Innes Centre, IBERS and PGRO to deliver the project. The project is targeting 3 important challenges – the urgent need to replace soy with UK protein crops; meeting market demand for taste and functionality; and growing a soya protein alternative sustainably.

Paul Billings, Managing Director of Germinal UK and Ireland, said, “Finding a sustainable alternative to soya is a priority for the food industry. Protein crops such as peas are ideal for the UK climate but one of our challenges is their flavour profile in human food.  Pea flavours are undesirable for consumers in processed food, so the goal is to produce peas that are tasteless but retain nutritional value. The gene for flavourless peas was first identified in the 1990s by scientists at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

This exciting breeding programme will use innovative research in pea genetics to develop new varieties without the traditionally associated problems. This funding continues to drive our innovation journey alongside award winning Aber High Sugar grasses that can reduce emissions from ruminant grazing animals and a world first hybrid clover that is resilient and resource efficient”.

The programme is funded in part by Defra via Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as part of the Farming Innovation Pathway. As well as delivering environmental sustainability, the project will provide new economic opportunities for farmers to replace soya with a home grown alternative.

Robust testing at farm level will ensure that only the varieties that meet market demands and the agronomic requirements of UK farmers will be commercially progressed.  The project will be a positive step forward in the drive to find tailored solutions for the food industry that consider both the climate and consumer.

About Germinal

Germinal is part of the Openfolde Group, is a leading forage specialist developing sustainable grassland varieties and supplying a range of premium agricultural seed to the Irish, UK and New Zealand markets. Founded in 1825, Germinal is a sixth-generation family company, supporting farmers with technical advice and best practice guidance. Working within the industry and alongside partners to share grassland knowledge, Germinal is committed to a responsible future for agriculture

Germinal has research and innovation at its core. Its research and innovation team, Germinal Horizon, comprises scientists at world-leading grassland research centre, Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) in Wales, and its own R&D farm sites. Germinal Horizon also oversees on-farm trials to confirm new varieties work effectively in a real-life farming situation.

Germinal Horizon secures a long-term focus on innovation in forage management and plant breeding, developing products fit for the future, enhancing agricultural productivity and profitability in the face of today’s climate challenges.

About Innovate UK

Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, is creating a better future by inspiring, involving and investing in businesses developing life-changing innovations.

We provide targeted sectors with expertise, facilities, and funding to test, demonstrate and evolve their ideas, driving UK productivity and economic growth. Join our network and communities of innovators to realise the potential of your ideas and accelerate business growth. Innovate UK: inspiring business innovation.

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