Biofuels, Plastics and Drugs: Is This the Future of Our Farms?
by John Vidal (The Guardian) Climate change and poor returns on wheat and dairy drive rural revolution in ‘future-proof’ agriculture — … In Essex, David Eagle is growing acres of sea buckthorn, a salt-tolerant plant that grows wild in Siberiacorrect and northern Europe. Its orange berries can be used in food and drink products, but are bought mainly by cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Eagle knows his coastal defences may not withstand many more storms and increases in sea-levels, so wanted a future-proof crop. “Our sea walls are in good condition but the future may not be so certain in an era of climate change,” he says.
In East Anglia, borage, hemp and flax are being grown for their oils, daffodils for drugs use, and lavender for cosmetics. The hop fields of Kent are expanding as the global boom in micro-breweries sees British hop exports to the US soaring, and wildflower seed farms are springing up on former grazing land in Lincolnshire as farmers take environmental action in return for EU subsidies.
Dorset farmers are paid premium prices by drugs firms to grow poppies and cannabis for medicines, but the market for pharmaceuticals is small, tightly controlled and limited, says David Turley of the National Non-Food Crop Centre(NNFCC) in York.
“There is great interest in the bio-economy,” said Turley. “We are now taking ethanol [from wheat] to make plastics. It’s an emerging market that I think will become huge as large brands become concerned about sustainability. I would expect many more plants to be grown for plastics.”
Many older dairy and arable farmers were turning to energy crops because they required less physical work and offered security when cereal or milk prices fell, said George Robinson of agricultural energy firm Terravesta. READ MORE