Alternative cropping opportunities for UK arable farmers were highlighted at this year’s Grown Green conference, organised by the Vegan Society, with pulses taking centre stage.
Nick Saltmarsh co-founded the pulse and grain processor, Hodmedod’s seven years ago when he noticed certain pulses were not readily available to the consumer, despite being widely grown in the UK.
He said: “We realised British farmers were growing a fantastic range of pulses particularly fava beans and various varieties of peas, but much of these were being exported.”
Mr Saltmarsh said he wanted to work with farmers to find their way into the wider UK market and bring British beans back into British kitchens.
Hodmedod’s, which now grows over 30 conventional and organic farms from Shropshire to Suffolk, produces a whole range of products including fava beans, marrowfat peas, naked barley, quinoa, and the first crop of British chia seeds, most recently adding lentils to their portfolio.
Crops are roasted, ground, canned, puffed and even fermented to create a wide range of products sold in farm shops and wholefood retailers throughout the UK.
Mr Saltmarsh said: “We hope to increase the diversity of crops grown on British farms and therefore increase the diversity of our diets.”
Roger Vickers, chief executive of the Processors and Growers Research Organisation (PGRO), said he would like to see more research into alternative pulses that can be grown in the UK.
He said: “I believe that there is a good piece of work still to be done in screening all the lentils, chickpeas and lupins that are grown in other parts of the world that could grow here. I would really like to see that we could grow chickpeas in the UK but unfortunately of those that are obviously available, we do not have the climate to produce a reliable crop. I do not think the work is being done to cast the net around the world to find the right climate to find varieties that could grow here and create the opportunity to start a breeding programme.”
Nathaniel Loxley, founder of Vitality Hemp, says low THC varieties of cannabis are coming to the fore, and with 99 per cent of UK supply imported, focus should turn to increasing homegrown production.
The organic tenant farmer, who is currently trialling six varieties of hemp, told Farmers Guardian once growing techniques are refined, he hopes to expand on site and onto other satellite areas, creating potential opportunities for local landowners.
He said: “We are in talks with a number of farmers and would be open to speak to more, ideally regionally because we want to set up our own processing plant.”
Mr Loxley, who is one of just a handful of THC cannabis licence holders in the UK, said crop would most likely need to be grown on contract, to satisfy the requirements of the Home Office and offer growing advice.
Mr Loxley, who started growing the crop under a conventional system for food said he quickly realised they could make use of the whole plant.
“The seed is great for digestible protein, and the leaves can be used for tea, stalks for building materials, and hemp cellulose as an alternative to graphene in batteries.
“We baled the stubble, which is being used for research and development purposes and there is a huge amount of opportunities for that as well. The roots get taken into the soil and are fantastic a phytoremediator that adds nutrients, so a really fantastic crop to grow.
“It is an amazing crop in terms of environmental benefits and how it aerates the soil and fixes nutrients. Not less, it increases yield of subsequent crops and this is one aspect we are really looking into.”
There are projected figures of a cannabis market of €128billion in Europe, according to Mr Loxley, who said with an annual market growth of 13 per cent, there is a ‘real consumer drive’ to integrate hemp.