One of the first domesticated crops, lentils have been part of the human diet since then. Belonging to the legume family, they use rhizobia bacteria to bind gaseous nitrogen. Lentils are the most protein-rich legumes after soybeans, and are relatively drought-tolerant. The average lentil yield in Europe is 7.6 dt/ha, though yields may vary significantly depending on region and cultivation method. Canada, India and Turkey are the world leaders in lentil cultivation. In Switzerland, cultivation is primarily limited to the west of the country. Imported volume exceeds local supply, thus presenting scope for extending the acreage under cultivation. Although lentils are still a niche product, Swiss demand for legumes is on the rise.
Mainly because of their slow juvenile development and modest plant length, lentils are considered to be 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 lentil with companion plants. Further challenges are associated with the harvest: on the one hand, lodging of plants 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 pinpoint the optimal harvest time.
Post-harvest processing also plays a major role in bringing a product of impeccable quality on the market.
Small plot trials
Testing of lentil varieties and combinations of different companion crops in mixed cropping with lentils.
Financial support 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.