The European soybean crop is holding its own, despite intense pressure from U.S., Brazilian and Argentine imports. The future of the crop depends on overcoming ecological and economical constraints, says Andree Bouniols, coordinator ofthe European Cooperative FAO Network on Soybean Research in Castanet-Tolosan, France.

Soybeans are grown in pockets from the Atlantic Ocean to Central Europe and the Volga Valley, and from the Arctic Polar Circle to the Mediterranean Sea, Bouniols explains. Even though varieties have been bred to adapt to low temperatures, long days and water stress, she points out that problems still occur with reaching a competitive price level compared with other crops such as corn, sorghum and sunflowers.

Water availability remains the limiting factor in European soybean production. However, in some areas - northern Italy, southwestern France, northwestern Spain and Portugal - adequate water resources have led to average yields increasing from 1.8 to 3.7 metric tons/hectare (27-54 bu/acre).

As expected, crop management differs among those locations due to climatic conditions and farming equipment. The biggest production obstacles appear in the choice of planting date, row spacing and plant density related to various maturity groups and growth types.

For animal feeds and human foods, the nutritional value of soybeans has improved in Europe to adapt to expanding uses and competitiveness in the market. Oil and protein content along with yield have made advances based on agronomic and genetic research, Bouniols says. The researcher expects further progress in the balance of fatty acids, protein composition and reduced antinutritional factors.

Still, Bouniols says, more research is under way to improve grain quality and to promote the place of soybeans in sustainable systems.

(Andree Bouniols, European Cooperative FAO Network on Soybean Research)