Legume cultivation has sharply decreased in Italy during the last 50 years. Lucerne remains widely grown (with about 12% of its area devoted to dehydration), whereas soybean is definitely the most-grown grain legume. Poor legume cropping is mainly due to the gap in yielding ability with major cereals, which has widened up in time according to statistical data. Lucerne displays definitely higher crude protein yield and somewhat lower economic gap with benchmark cereals than feed grain legumes. Pea because of high feed energy production per unit area and rate of genetic progress, and white lupin because of high protein yield per unit area, are particularly interesting for Italian rain-fed environments. Greater legume cultivation in Europe is urged by the need for reducing energy and green-house gas emissions and excessive and unbalanced global N flows through greater symbiotic N fixation and more integrated crop-animal production, as well as to cope with ongoing and perspective raising prices of feed proteins and N fertilisers and insecurity of feed protein supplies. The transition towards greater legume cultivation requires focused research effort, comprehensive stakeholder cooperation and fair economic compensation for legume environmental services, with a key role for genetic improvement dragged by public breeding or pre-breeding. New opportunities for yield improvement arise from the ongoing development of cost-efficient genome-enabled selection procedures, enhanced adaptation to specific cropping conditions via ecophysiological and evolutionary-based approaches, and more thorough exploitation of global genetic resources.
Breeding; Feed protein; Feed security; Genetic gain; Sustainability