One of the first domesticated crops, lentils have been part of the human diet for some 10,000 years. A member of the legume family, they use rhizobia bacteria to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Lentils are the second-most protein-rich legume after soybeans, and are relatively drought-tolerant. The average annual lentil yield in Europe is 9.6 dt/ha, although yields can vary significantly depending on region and cultivation method. Canada, India and Turkey are the world leaders in lentil cultivation. Despite the increased acreage devoted to lentil crops in Switzerland in recent years, demand still outstrips supply. The acreage currently given over to this niche crop could thus be expanded even further.
Mainly because of their slow juvenile development and modest plant height, lentils are considered weak competitors. Effective weed control in pure lentil crops is therefore vital for successful cultivation. A promising approach, particularly in organic farming, is to grow lentils with companion plants. Further challenges are associated with the harvest: on the one hand, plant lodging requires a low cut, with the risk of conveying stones and earth into the combine; on the other hand, not all pods of a plant ripen simultaneously, making it difficult to determine the optimal harvest time.
Drying and post-harvest processing also play key roles in bringing a product of impeccable quality onto the market.
Testing of lentil varieties grown together with different pea varieties in the ‘PROMISE’ project (2020-2024): The aim of this project is to establish a sustainable protein supply in mixed cropping systems in Switzerland. Small-plot trials are conducted on organically farmed fields, with pea/barley mixtures being researched by FIBL and lentil/pea mixtures by Agroscope. More information about the ‘PROMISE’ project, which is funded by the FOAG and BioSuisse, can be found here.
Funding from BioSuisse provides for a farmer advisory service as part of arable-crop development on commercial farms. In addition, field days encourage knowledge exchange among farmers as well as between researchers and farmers.
Further information on lentils, their cultivation and processing as well as an overview of the current state of research in the German-speaking area can be found here.