In Switzerland, faba bean is gaining more and more interest as a local source of plant-based proteins for food. This legume is nowadays mainly grown as green manure or animal feed, sometimes in association with wheat, triticale, or oat by organic farmers. Recently, a few independent projects have sprouted, focusing on variety trials and the use of faba bean by the food industry for the production of vegetarian options. Actors in the agri-food sector are looking for opportunities to get organized since there is no food value chain in place for the moment in the country. Based on the market trend, we decided to focus our research activities from field to fork on two organic crops to be valued in the food channel: intercropping faba bean and wheat for bread making in the framework of the IntercropValuES project.

The initial months of the project have been dedicated to laying the groundwork on faba bean crop across the country by identifying and connecting to key players and ongoing initiatives. Summertime was rhythmed by on-farm plant assessments and sampling to carry out a comprehensive exploration of the current state of faba bean cultivation and valorisation. The FiBL project team engaged with 20 organic farms between May and August in different regions of Switzerland which provided valuable insights into local practices, challenges, and opportunities faced by practitioners. About half of these farms are currently growing spring or winter faba bean varieties in association with oat or wheat. The topics of crop management, optimal sowing density, post-harvest treatment and valorisation channels emerged as recurrent concerns shared by the farmers about intercropping faba bean with cereal.  

Picture above: plant assessment in winter faba bean – wheat intercrop. @FiBL

Although perceived as a rather easy crop, most farmers admitted that for now, faba bean is not financially interesting due to yield uncertainties and lack of markets. It is still undervalued in comparison to other protein plants like soybean. Thus, the motivational driver is mainly the benefits of faba bean as a preceding crop. In this context, intercropping faba bean with a cereal could be beneficial to the producers: high wheat quality (higher protein content) and also enhanced yield stability and security regardless of the conditions.

These first interactions confirmed the need to support farmers with guidance on agricultural practices, varieties adapted to Swiss conditions, and food processing. In parallel, the partnership with downstream stakeholders is pivotal to developing innovative food value-adding channels.

As autumn is approaching, the CICS team is now finalizing the experimental designs of the on-farm trials with winter faba bean-wheat intercrops among the partners’ network.

This news item was written by Nicod Ludivine, FiBL (Switzerland)