Reducing synthetic nitrogen in farming, by letting legumes do more nitrogen-fixing in the soil, has plenty of other benefits:
Plant more bean-like crops in Europe and consider ‘healthy diet transition’ to beat climate crisis, say scientists
Adding the likes of peas, lentils, beans, and chickpeas to your diet, and farming more of them, could result in more nutritious and effective food production with large environmental benefits, scientists have found.
Researchers calculated a “nutritional density” unit for different types of crops. They found that swapping cereals for leguminous plants in European crop rotations provided more nutrient-rich produce for both animal and human consumption. Thanks to the way that legumes grow, it also reduced synthetic fertiliser use and pollution.
The research is among the first to provide a long-term, holistic look at the issue, and the results may help achieve some of the goals in the EU’s Farm to Fork plan, part of the bloc’s European Green Deal, which aims to reduce synthetic fertiliser use by 20% and greenhouse emissions by 50% before 2030.
“Healthy diet transitions can increase environmental sustainability,” said Dr David Styles, a lecturer in environmental engineering at the University of Limerick and the lead researcher on the study, published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.
Legumes are one of the most nutrient-rich crops on the market – they are abundant in protein, fibre, iron and potassium – and they are a healthier alternative to cereals and meat. The appetite for them is starting to grow: more than 40% of Brits are looking to reduce the amount of meat in their diet and 14% of the population consider themselves “flexitarians” (following a flexible vegetarian diet), according to 2019 YouGov statistics.
While traditional European crops such as oats, barley, wheat and rapeseed require synthetic fertilisers to obtain nitrogen – a critical nutrient for growth – leguminous plants produce their own nitrogen from the air. They also leave nitrogen behind in the soil, ready to be used by future crops.
Styles said: “Synthetic fertiliser nitrogen dominates the carbon footprint for the cultivation of crops. If we can reduce that by increasing legume production, we’re automatically going to massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”…
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