Called Legume Futures, the three-year, EUR4m (£3.6m) programme was launched last week in Edinburgh. It will be co-ordinated by the Scottish Agricultural College, which along with the SCRI is fulfilling the UK's commitment to the project funded under the EU framework.
The aim of the research is to identify the best way to use legumes in each of Europe's climatic zones, identifying the most suitable crop for each region and designing cropping systems that will reduce farming's environmental impact.
Legumes produce their own crop and create their own nitrogen supply that researchers hope can help mitigate current nitrogen and energy-use "inefficiencies" in the global food production system.
An SCRI representative said: "Farmers (and growers) in Europe are not making the most of what legumes can offer. They can be used in rotations to interrupt the build up of disease.
"Legumes can also replace animal feed or fibre crops imported from elsewhere in the world. They may even have a function as energy crops and their nitrogen fixing capability gives them an additional role in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases like nitrous oxide."
The programme is bringing together data from 18 case studies in 12 countries across Europe. In addition to studying the plants and crop systems, they will consider the impact on farmers, small businesses and policy makers.
The consortium will make use of innovative ways of gathering and disseminating the knowledge gained, including on-farm demonstrations and the publication of a book on growing legumes.
The SCRI is leading a work package on data management and novel system design, including a website www.legumefutures.eu and an online database for exchange of information between researchers.