Protein from organic clover grass – a new opportunity for organic production

Clover grass could play a central role for expanding organic livestock farming as farmers’ demand for organic protein feed is increasing. The business case of producing and marketing organic clover grass protein could bring new opportunities for organic farmers and other actors in the organic business.

2017.06.09 | Karen Hamann, CEO and senior researcher at IFAU Institute

In Denmark, organic food accounts for nearly 9 % of the total food consumption. This places Denmark as the country with the highest share of organic food consumed in a global perspective, and the Danish demand for organic food is still increasing. Today, the demand for organic eggs is anticipated to increase by 20 % annually in the coming years, and the demand for organic meat is also increasing. Danish consumers’ main motivations for purchasing organic meat and eggs are a) to avoid pesticides; b) to protect the environment; and c) to support animal welfare.

A feasible business case

It is a requirement for an increased production of organic meat and eggs that the producers have access to sufficient volumes of organic feed protein at a competitive price. As of January 2018, all protein used in Danish organic livestock production should be of 100 per cent organic nature.

Following the new requirement to the organic protein supply, the potential for producing feed protein from organic clover grass could be an interesting and feasible new business case. Organic clover grass can provide optimal nutrition for organic livestock production; accommodate the main purchasing motivations of the consumers and; contribute to sustaining biodiversity and improve soil nutrition status.

Results developed in the project OrganoFinery have demonstrated that 1) it is technically possible to extract high-quality protein from clover grass and, 2) it is possible to deal with harvesting, transportation and processing of clover grass under real-life conditions and still take quality and logistics into consideration.

The project has conducted pilot scale experiments at the Danish research site Foulum, supplemented with large scale experiments carried out in collaboration with organic farmers and a feed producing company. The preliminary conclusion indicates that there are grounds for establishing a supply chain from “field to feed company” for the production of organic clover grass protein. Among the yet unanswered questions are whether the feasibility of the venture is attractive for all actors in the supply chain, and to what extent this organic protein feed proves to be competitive in the market.

Sustainable protein supply

The present supply of organic feed protein for the Danish organic livestock production is predominantly soy protein imported from China and from South European countries. If a supply chain for organic clover grass protein could be established, the Danish organic production system could be expanded based on a larger and more sustainable protein supply. Additional benefits would include new business opportunities for organic farmers in growing clover grass for a commercial protein production; and new opportunities for developing processing equipment and collaboration structures. 

From project to realisation

It takes initiative and resources to be the “first mover” in an immature market - as is the market for organic clover grass protein. A key issue before starting production of organic clover grass protein is to define the business case, i.e. how could this production and supply chain be organised so the involved actors can make a profit from engaging in this supply chain?

Furthermore, what are the costs of producing this kind of organic feed protein? So far, the project has proven that (at least) three factors show a strong impact on the competitiveness of producing and marketing organic clover grass protein: The price competitiveness of alternative protein sources; the feeding strategy in the livestock production; and the technologies for processing the grass into protein.

It is to be investigated in the project how these factors co-relate and impact the overall feasibility of the protein venture. The bottom line is that there is a market for alternative organic protein sources if such products can be offered at a price competitive to the presently applied protein sources like soya.

The project OrganoFinery is part of the Organic RDD-2 program, which is coordinated by ICROFS (International Center for Research in Organic Farming and Food Systems). The project has received funding from the Green Development and Demonstration Program (GUDP) of the Danish Ministry of Food and Agriculture.


Visit the project website of OrganoFinery

Contact information
Karen Hamann, CEO and senior researcher at IFAU Institute for Food Studies & Agri Industrial Development ApS, Denmark (www.ifau.dk; Karen@ifau.dk; T: +45 45 57 05 82)

Agriculture and food
Tags: OrganoFinery, Organic RDD, GUDP