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Periodic Report Summary 2 - EUROLEGUME (Enhancing of legumes growing in Europe through sustainable cropping for protein supply for food and feed)

Project Context and Objectives:
The EUROLEGUME project is focused on the development of several scientific activities which are foreseen to be integrated to create an added value to the legume value chain of pea, faba bean, and cowpea crops. Apart from becoming more economic attractive to farmers and industry it is expected a reduction of imports in the EU market. To achieve such objective it will be launched in the market new cultivars of these species, more adapted to the climate changes, more suitable to sustainable cropping systems such as organic farming, do develop innovative inoculants, and last but not the least to create new food products and new feeds. These innovative products will certainly meet the consumer demands, which will increase their consumption with an improved health effect. This is particularly relevant for the 6 SME’s partners in the project.
The activities conducted within each of the 7 WPs have supported, and in some cases have suplanted the initial plan. Thus, the objectives set for the first 30 months were fully achieved.
This project started in the 1st of January 2014 and till the end of June 2016 it was covered successive cropping seasons by the field trials developed in diverse European locations and experimental fields. In the northern European countries, in Spring-Summer were grown peas and faba beans, whilst in the same period in the southern countries was only possible to grow cowpea. In the Autumn-Winter seasons, also in southern Europe, it was developed pea and faba bean crops.
Regarding the accomplishment of the general objective of evaluating the performance of local genetic resources for potential benefits for selective breeding for site-specific abiotic and biotic stress growing conditions, it was evaluated the plants phenotypes and chemical composition of legume grains and pods, gaining further genetic information usefull for efficient breeding. The Near Infrared Reflectance (NIR) calibration protocol for crude protein and amino acid content was partially developed, and started the study of the genetic diversity within the EUROLEGUME core collection of pea, faba bean, and cowpea genetic resources.
It was made a selection of appropriate rhizobium strains to improve biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) and developed new inoculants. Effective and competitive rhizobial strains for enhanced BNF and well adapted to a wide range of climatic and edaphic conditions including acid, arid, and semi-arid regions were already selected. These were assessed on molecular markers for field studies in order to monitor the inoculated strains through pot and field experiments. Within this task, it was achieved new improved microbial inoculants targeted to marketable products.
In the framework of the improvement of agronomical practices, it was evaluated the legumes influence on diverse crops in rotation schemes and the effect of diverse strains of rhizobia and AMF on legumes performance and soil features, identifying the most beneficiary strains to enhance yield and quality, and to minimize the use of inorganic fertilizers. Thus, related to the environmental impact of legumes culture, it was assessed the N availability in soils to following crops before, as well as in nonedible parts of legume plants. Moreover, in order to identify the environmental impact of these cultures, it was studied the GHG emissions when legumes are grown under different cropping systems.
The project move also forward on the development of new foods and feeds as an alternative to imported high-protein feed materials and to determine their impact on the quality of final innovative products, cost-effectiveness, and environment safety. At the same time new processing and packaging techniques have been developed. It was also established the effects of the new feed products on metabolism, productivity, and product quality on farm animals through feeding trials and legumes vegetative materials were processed, resorting to solid state fermentation and silage treatments in order to identify the best alternative for obtaining nutritive livestock feeds.

Project Results:
The project produced 22 deliverables as a result of the work developed during the first 30 months of the project.
WP1 The 2nd and 3rd Steering Committee and Coordination Meetings were organized on February 2015 and March-April 2016, respectively.
Edition of the first Oficial Report and 2 mid term reports.
WP2 It was set a much larger source collection of accessions than planned, with 135 cowpea, 208 pea and 260 faba bean.
It was carried on the exchange of genetic resources between partners for evaluation of faba bean (129 and 34, respectively), pea (113 and 131 accessions, respectively), and cowpea (7 and 17 accessions, respectively) under diverse European agroclimatic conditions concerning plant performance, yield and chemical composition.
The validation of a rapid selection method based on NIR spectroscopy provided the calibration equations for protein content prediction, based on spectral data on faba bean (n=820), pea (n=1347) and cowpea (n=213).
It was evaluated accessions of faba bean (n=116), pea (n=88), and cowpea (n=96) concerning genetic diversity.
WP3 The collection of soil and plant material samples for the isolation and propagation of new rhizobial and AMF strains continued.
The genotypic analysis of 129 rhizobial strains provided information for its categorization by PCR DNA fingerprinting analysis.
It was established pot experiments (n=12) and field experiments (n=10) using 12 strains of Rhizobia and 4 strains of AMF providing information on their capacity to survive and nodulate legume plants. The most effective strains were selected for resistance against drought stress or beneficial effects on plant production.
In addition, trap culture experiments confirmed the compatibility and the positive effect of the mixed inoculants based on identified rhizobia and AMF strains.
Peat was identified as the best material for immobilization and survival of rhizobia.
WP4 It was done the analysis of dry and fresh beans and fresh immature pods on nutritional composition and microbiological features. Technologies for shelf life, including: disinfection and packaging procedures and storage conditions were tested.
Finally, the economical assessment of new feed products was based on the results obtained in feeding trials completed.
WP 5 From the evaluation of 32 pea, 40 faba bean, and 21 cowpea cultivars, under diverse growing conditions, it was feasible to establish the effect of diverse management practices on plant morphology, yield potential, and nutritional quality, which allowed to identify the most adequates farming systems and cultivars.
Trials assessing the effect of sowing density on yield and protein content showed no significant influence, whilst the presence of AMF in the soil improved the absorption rate of N, P, and K.
WP 6 It was set up the nutritional features of cowpea straw processed by SSF and ensiling with discarded apple. The treatment with P. citrinopileatus appeared as the best alternative.
It was started the evaluation of legume crops residues as a source of N and organic matter-status to soils in 5 distinct locations. Rye as winter cover crop efficiently takes up and conserves nitrogen during winter, as observed by a clear removal of soil NO3-N and N-min compared to an open field.
Concerning pea, the genotype seems to have a strong influence on BNF and so, is a critical factor for an efficient use of this legume plant in organic cropping.
The results obtained on the environmental impact of crop rotation suggested that a proper legume crop residues management, as well as the selection of species/cultivars and the farming practices might have positive effects on GHG emissions and C sequestration.
WP 7 Project had a large dissemination: 38 national and 45 international meetings, field days (6) and practical seminars (24), presentations at academic centres (4), technical magazines (2) and scientific journals (9). The first Project Conference was held at the Agriculture University of Athens, in 2nd April 2016.

Potential Impact:
From the results achieved so far it can be emphasized the following major impacts:

1. Further scientific knowledge of a much larger collection of accessions from around the world (faba bean, pea and cowpea) and identification of material which can be used in breeding and as new cultivars, creating an added value in the legume value chain more adapted to the climate change (e.g. drought stress, biotic resistance, adaptation to different soil types). Overall the grown area of these crops will increase with an impact on the reduction of imports in the EU;

2. The identification of new rhizobial and arbuscular mychorrizal fungi (AMF) inoculants with improved biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) capacity had an impact on producing new combinations of these microrganisms which will improve the adaptability to environmental stresses whilst increasing yield;

3. The identification of the best crop rotations of legumes with vegetables have increased soil fertility, reduce N inputs, increase the yield and turning the croping systems more sustainable and profitable;

4. New food/feed products from available and new genotypes of faba bean, peas and cowpeas, and development of innovative processing technologies have an impact on offering the consumer a novel product with better health effect. On the other hand there was a quality improvement of the feed being more sustainable.

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