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Case study 20: Switzerland: Intercropping for species other than peas and faba beans in association with cereal

Cluster 4: Diversification through intercropping, with a special focus on grain legumes

The production of grain legumes has regained importance due to the increasing demand for organic protein. Thus, the case study focuses on the development of new systems to produce organic soya and blue lupines, on a bigger scale, as feed for chickens and pigs. Additionally, the case study endeavours to increase the supply of white lupines for human nutrition.

What are the main problems underlying the emergence of the case study?
The cultivation of grain legumes, such as peas, considerably decreased in 2008 due to lodging, which resulted in a higher risk of late weed infestation. The low yields had reduced the organic pea area to only 50 hectares in Switzerland and the home-grown protein production only provided 3 % of the domestic demand. The situation has improved with the development of mixed crops (peas with barley or field beans with oats) to approximately 1000 ha in Switzerland, representing around 10 % of the domestic demand. At the same time, the demand for protein has steadily increased due to a higher production of organic eggs and pork. Foreign imports have increased accordingly. However, Chinese soya (which was banned) had to be replaced by European soya in 2018, and Bio Suisse (association of Swiss organic farmers) will ban all protein imports for ruminants from 2022 and also restrict the use of feed concentrates to 5 %. This small share of concentrates in the feed intake should contain high-quality protein. Soya and lupine are the main candidates in that regard. The goal is to produce around 2000 to 3000 ha of soya and lupines for ruminants in Switzerland by 2022 and, at the same time, expand the production of white lupines for human consumption on a small scale (blue lupine is only suitable for feed).

How is the problem addressed and which actors are involved?
A new project "Organic soya and lupines for feed" is being developed in collaboration with Bio Suisse. The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) is responsible for the technical cultivation, crop development and advice issues, while Bio Suisse coordinates the feed mills network (Rytz, Lindmühle, fenaco, Grüninger) and sets the prices with the industry.

In the project on proteins for human nutrition, we work with a small processor (Tofurei Engel) since the main Swiss retailers Migros and Coop are currently rather sceptical. Migros is not very much interested because of the high production costs in Switzerland. Coop would be interested, but cannot carry out the industrial processing of white lupines as long as they do not consider the regulated Bio Suisse extruder process suitable for them.

Solution investigated
Different intercropping systems were tested in the past, such as peas with barley or faba beans with oat. Different varieties were also tested to find the same maturity point and, finally, the same harvest point.

The case study focuses on the growing of different varieties of soya or lupine in intercropping or relay cropping systems, and comparing them to the traditional pure crops and standard varieties. Besides intercropping, we will also try direct seeding or under-sowing.

Regarding the production of white lupine, we are still faced with the anthracnose disease, which is an important barrier. In addition, the processing of lupines, using the regulated Bio Suisse extruder process, is currently not allowed in Switzerland. In 2020, anthracnose-tolerant varieties of white lupines from Germany will be commercialised on the organic market. This offers us opportunities to develop new products for human consumption in collaboration with small processors (e.g. with Tofurei Engel).

Expected outcome

  • Establishing organic soya and blue lupines production for feed in Switzerland on a rather large scale.
  • Production and processing of organically produced white lupines for human consumption on a small scale.
  • Finding new methods to stabilize the yield of organic soya and lupines.
  • Finding new ways to reduce the danger of a complete weed infestation at the end of the growing period.
  • Developing new and low-input systems to produce soya and lupines without any chemical inputs.
  • Exchanging knowledge with other project partners.

Relevance to the DiverIMPACTS goals?
This case study is contributing to a more diversified agricultural landscape with a lower impact on the environment and the production of ecosystem services. The latter is the direct consequence of a lower use of inputs in such systems. Furthermore, the different implemented technics in organic agriculture can also inspire the conventional sector and lead to further positive impacts. Finally, the market of grain legumes is being developed by also diversifying the range of outlets.


  • Hansueli Dierauer, FiBL, case study leader
  • Sylvain Quiédeville, FiBL, case study monitor