Plant breeders and researchers collaborate for the next generation of legumes to reduce the protein gap in Europe

Legume Generation aims to reduce the European protein deficit by boosting plant breeding to make legumes more productive and profitable for European farmers.

Legume generation team in Gatersleben, Germany. Credits: J.-S. Himpe, Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK).
November 14, 2023

A new European project Legume Generation aims to boost the breeding of the major food and feed legume crops in Europe to support the EU Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies by making legume crops more competitive on European farms and in value chains.

The Legume Generation consortium that includes Donau Soja has recently been awarded EUR 7 million from the European Union and the United Kingdom. The total value of the new project is EUR 8.6 million running from September 2023 to February 2028. Legume Generation aims to reduce the European protein deficit by boosting plant breeding to make legumes more productive and profitable for European farmers. The consortium is coordinated by Lars-Gernot Otto at the IPK and Donal Murphy-Bokern, a close associate of Donau Soja.

Putting plant breeders in the lead

The Legume Generation consortium has 32 partners from 16 countries, including New Zealand and the USA. They run more than 40 legume breeding and pre-breeding programs. The breeders will join forces in Legume Generation with Europe’s leading research organizations in this area to boost the breeding of soybean, lupin, pea, lentil, common bean and clover. This will support the EU Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies.

“The project will contribute to our mission to support plant breeding with our seed bank and to harness the power of genetics for the sustainable development of farming. The legumes are an essential part of sustainable agricultural systems and this project allows us to contribute to developing the improved varieties that we need,” said Otto.

“We need to form new partnerships between leading European plant research organizations and the plant breeders upon which the improvement of farm crops depends. We will change the way legume plant breeders are supported by research for the benefit of European farmers, the environment, and our health,” Murphy-Bokern summarizes the coming years.

Legumes are good for our health and the environment

In light of climate change, declining biodiversity, and the benefits of plant-based foods, plants of the legume family are good for our health and for the planet. Lentil, soybean, lupin, pea, and common bean and their relatives fix their own nitrogen from the air and provide us with the protein-rich seeds, including the pulses, that are key to a healthy and sustainable diet. Increasing their production in Europe makes farming systems more diverse, resilient and sustainable. Their flowers are a source of pollen for insects. In addition, clover is very valuable in sustainable grassland farming systems.

Closing Europe’s protein gap

Despite all the benefits and the need to change how we source and use plant protein, legume crops are rarely grown by European farmers, accounting for only 2-3% of the cropping area. Part of the reason for this is that investment in breeding is constrained by low rewards for the private plant breeding of these crops.

The Legume Generation consortium addresses this by creating new structures for collaboration between legume plant breeders and public research. It puts six species-specific innovation communities at the heart of the effort to improve legume crops. Each will bring together genetic resources, expertise in data management, genetics, and testing and focus this on the breeding of its crop species, led for the benefit of breeders.

For more information on the Legume Generation project, visit