Soy in Flanders


The majority of soybean cultivation takes place in South America. Approximately 800,000 tons of soy and soy derived products are imported annually in Belgium. Unfortunately, this import contributes to deforestation in South America. Consequently, Flanders, and to lesser extent also Belgium, would benefit from sustainable, local soy production thereby reducing its dependence on imported soy and related products. In addition, climate change necessitates alternative crops for Belgian farmers  

Soybean is one of the most important plant derived protein sources for food and feed. In addition, soybean cultivation also improves soil quality and reduces nitrogen pollution making it a sustainable crop. However, it is currently challenging to cultivate soy in Belgium with an acceptable yield, in part because soybean requires interaction with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules. No commercially available bacterial inoculants are endemic and are therefore not adapted to the Belgian soil and environmental conditions.  


This project is part of a larger project that aims to introduce soy as a crop in Flanders. In this project, the consortium has the following aims: 

  • To engage 1000 citizens to grow soy in their own garden. 

  • To isolate endogenous Rhizobium bacteria from soy plants grown in Belgian soil.  

  • To integrate data regarding soil type, microorganisms, and soy variety for the development and implementation of guidelines on optimal cultivation methods for soy in our region.

  • Improve public knowhow and awareness about the benefits of legumes for health, sustainable gardening, and agriculture. 

  • To produce tailor-made seeds inoculated with nitrogen fixating bacteria that are adapted to local soil conditions and can improve yield to acceptable levels. 

The project consortium concentrates on: 

  • Sustainable agriculture: evaluate optimal conditions to cultivate soy in our region, given the interest of stakeholders in alternative crops for sustainable agriculture.

Facts & Figures

Start date:
End date:
Call 3

Thematic area

Sustainable agriculture 

The sustainability of agriculture can be significantly improved by translating new molecular insights and technologies into practice. 




Sofie Goormachtig • Steven Maere

VIB-KU Leuven  

Jan Michiels 

KU Leuven  

Liesbet Vranken 


Anne Willems 


Isabel Roldán-Ruiz • Joke Pannecoucque 

Contribution to the project

This project starts by recruiting 1000 citizens to grow and analyze soy in their own garden/field. In this context, MijnTuinlab will be used as a preferred partner to engage participants using an online interface. The participants will also be asked to take surveys that will be set-up and analyzed by the group of Prof. Liesbet Vranken at KU Leuven. Afterwards, the plants will be collected, and nodulation efficiency and phenotypes will be assessed in the lab of Prof. Sofie Goormachtig from the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology. 

The microorganisms in the nodules and in the soil will be identified by the lab of Prof. Anne Willems at UGent. This will entail using isolation and cultivation dependent techniques for the nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Cultivation independent meta-genomics approaches to study the soil microbiome associated with the soy plants will be performed by the Goormachtig lab. In addition, the soil type and soil biomass will also be characterized by the Soil Science service of Belgium (“Bodemkundige Dienst van België”).  

The group of Prof. Jan Michiels from the VIB Center for Microbiology at the KU Leuven will lead the optimization of seed coating of soy seeds with nitrogen-fixating bacteria. These seed coatings will be tested on different soy cultivars by the group of Prof. Isabel Roldán-Ruiz and Dr. Joke Pannecoucque at ILVO in the lab and in field trials. 

Finally, the group of Prof. Steven Maere from the VIB-UGent Center for Plant Systems Biology is in charge of integrating the data obtained from nodulation phenotyping, soil analysis, microbial genomics, and citizens’ surveys to identify factors contributing to efficient nodulation of soy plants and to develop guidelines for growing soy in Flanders and give recommendations to citizens in relation to legumes, soil microbiology and sustainability.  


This consortium will build a large collection of nitrogen-fixing bacteria and generate data – shared with all partners withing the consortium –  that will improve the applicability of these bacteria for farming soy in Flanders. In addition, the project’s partners will collect data on the view of citizens on soybean as alternative nitrogen sources.  

Expected impact

Soybean is a widely used plant-derived protein source used for human consumption and in animal feed. Unfortunately, the current demand in Flanders exceeds the local production capacity to a large extent. Identification of local nitrogen-fixing bacteria that are adapted to the local climate will allow cultivation of soy with an acceptable yield in Flanders. In addition, soybean belongs to Family of Fabaceae or legumes (Leguminosae), plants that are capable of housing nitrogenfixing bacteria. This results in a lower dependence on fertilizer for soybean. 

Sofie Goormachtig (VIB-UGent) highlights the impact that can be generated by producing soy locally: “Soy is mainly imported from South-American countries where rainforests are being destroyed for agriculture. By growing soy locally, we would be more independent on the import from these countries. Moreover, local production contributes non-legume plants to sustainable agriculture because soy is part of the legume family that requires much less fertilization than non-legume due to the symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria of legumes.


Judith Van Dingenen (VIB-UGent) indicates why local rhizobia are key elements of this project:

“We believe that local rhizobia strains that are adapted to the local climate will outperform commercially available strains.” 



Sofie Bekaert, Manager Translational Program