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Opportunities in specialty crops for UK growers

CHAP Innovation Sector Lead Dr Réka Haraszi attended a workshop series on specialty crops, which ran over four weeks from 15th January 2021. Here she provides a summary of the content, which may be of interest to growers looking increase their range of crops.

The workshops, run by OMAFRA (Canada), provided information for entrepreneurial farmers looking to grow new, unusual or underutilised plants to target niche markets, gain economic benefits and to enter mainstream agriculture.

More importantly, they showed how increased engagement with specialty crops contribute significantly to an enhanced level of crop diversity. Speakers shared knowledge and further resources on crop and pest management, crop characterisation and their applications.

Farming systems
UK growers are increasingly looking for opportunities in specialty crops, which can provide alternatives for protein and other functional nutrient resources for humans and animals. Increasing crop diversity is important to support a sustainable, healthy agrifood system. Geographical and climate features, soil quality and crop management are key components to achieve this

It was fascinating to hear how many untapped, and valuable, plants are not part of Canada’s current farming systems. Examples include lavender, hops, elderberry, sea buckthorn, hazelnut, sweet chestnut, walnut, okra, tomatillo, peppers, eggplant, sweet potato and Jerusalem artichoke among others. These could be cultivated for a wide range of purposes either as a species or their varieties.

Diversivication
Crop diversification is equally important for the UK and similar information on UK-specific non-conventional crops would help the sector to achieve a more diverse range of plants in future farming and food systems. Scientific and technological activities in the UK may allow us to grow specialty crops even more efficiently, using alternative growing systems such as vertical farms and advanced greenhouses. Also, the UK landscape and access to sea water means there is already opportunity to develop specialty crop farming. One example is The University of Plymouth’s research on the added value of extracts from Cornish seaweeds and native plants for anti-ageing and UVB protection properties, but seaweed is also a valuable food source, as well as raw material for food packaging.

 
 

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