We grow two kinds of lupins. There are the ornamental kind, which are often grown in gardens. These look nice (see pic below), feed bees, but most importantly fix nitrogen, and can therefore be grown as a green manure crop, for cutting and mulching or for digging in to improve the soil. They have the advantage over other green manure crops in that it is very easy to save seed from them. They are also poisonous.
The other kind of lupin is the edible variety. The variety we grow was bred in the south of England, primarily as a source of animal feed. Farm animals in Britain have become increasingly dependent on high protein diets, as a result of breeding for so called "high genetic merit" (meaningless technobabble, but few farmers realise this). Generally this has meant soya meal grown mainly overseas (soya grows poorly in maritime climates like the UK). Realising that a global soya crop failure could be disasterous, British farmers looked for other high protein feeds. Fishmeal was one (from the hugely destructive Danish sand eel fisheries), slaughterhouse waste was another, but the BSE crisis put paid to that one. Meanwhile, attempts were made to breed soya beans for the British climate, and lupins have also been suggested as a protein crop for Britain. So far British edible lupins and soya have been all hype and no substance. The much hyped lupin variety we tried failed in Aberdeen, but we have some of the seed left and they might do better in Italy. Edible lupins have been grown in Italy for centuries. Some varieties must be soaked to remove bitter toxins.
The "protein problem" is a man made one. Before soya imports, British farmers fed home grown protein, such as field beans, and clover to their animals. Field beans and clover produce less protein than soya beans, but grow better in Britain. The animals were adapted to this lower protein diet, and grew slower. Breeding animals for "high genetic merit" produced animals that got sick on lower protein diets (mastitis and infertility in dairy cows for instance). The meat, milk and eggs from animals fed large amounts of grain and soya are less healthy, containing more saturated fat and less of the essential fatty acids such as omega 3 which are important for good health. British farms are unlikely to be able to grow as much grain protein as cheaply as farms in Canada or Brazil. However, those of us who believe in eating the diet for a small planet will welcome a new grain legume for cold and wet climates. A diet of broad beans and peas could get a bit boring after a while.
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