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Why the humble legume could be the answer to Europe's fertiliser addiction

By Michael Williams, Assistant Professor of Botany, Trinity College Dublin
David Styles, Lecturer in Carbon Footprinting, Bangor University
Marcela Porto Costa, PhD Candidate in Sustainable Agriculture, Bangor University
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Peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans and peanuts: if it comes in a pod then chances are it’s a legume. These unassuming food crops have a special ability that makes them fairly unique in the plant kingdom.

They can convert nitrogen gas – which is abundant in the air – to something altogether more rare and important to plants: ammonia. Ammonia can be immediately converted to proteins within a plant, helping it grow. That’s why legume crops don’t need nitrogen fertiliser, and they even leave some of the nitrogen they produce in the soil for other plants to use.

Most modern farms…

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