Cows and sheep munching grass in green fields is a familiar British sight, but a new report from Scotland suggests we ought to be encouraging the animals to put their hooves up and get grazing ourselves.
That’s because grass and clover contain protein, sugar and fibre that can be extracted and used for human consumption. Unlocking the nutritional value of the green stuff could trigger a farming revolution both in Scotland, where large tracts of land are good for cultivating no other crop, and around the world.
Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), which specialises in land management research and consultancy, is currently exploring ways to get more out of grass and clover herbage. David Lawson, an agronomist specialising in grassland research and the co-author of the report, says SRUC has already successfully extracted protein and plans to develop other products such as fibre for non-woven textile.
“In many parts of the country it isn’t possible to grow any other agricultural crop – it’s just too wet and cold,” says Lawson. The answer, he suggests, is to produce protein directly from grass. A number of research centres are already refining “harvested leaf herbage” in order to extract protein and other products.
SRUC aims to scale up production this summer, using extracts from white clover to create recipes and carry out consumer testing, with a view to making the project financially viable and taking it to the next step. A product derived from grass would have the same protein content as tofu, the report suggests.
While other European countries are experimenting with processing grass, such as Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, most of that work is geared towards creating protein for animal feed. In Britain, meanwhile, farmers are keen to hear that ground beneath their feet is good for something other than just walking on or feeding to cattle.
“In my work I liaise with livestock farmers and they have expressed considerable interest in grass/clover extraction for an alternative income,” says Lawson. “One of the advantages of the concept is that both clover and grass grow well in the UK, and we already have all the machinery and equipment for growing and harvesting. In the short term this could provide an alternative output for grassland farmers. In the longer term, grass bioprocessing could transform agricultural production in the UK and abroad.”