Growing industrial crops: Find out about opportunities for farmers and land managers.
Industrial crops are often multi-purpose crops.
They have the great advantage of being grown on land that may be considered too unproductive for food because of elevated levels of harmful elements.
Besides, industrial crops can provide resources for high value-added products and bioenergy and increase farmers’ income.
Researcher Efi Alexopoulou and Polish farmer Mateusz Ciasnocha share their experiences.
Utilisation of marginal lands and establishment of supply chains researcher, Efi Alexopoulou, is involved in Horizon 2020 project MAGIC.
This project wants to make it easier for farmers to grow industrial crops.
Therefore they have developed a database of existing resource-efficient industrial crops with information on their:
- Agronomic characteristics;
- Input requirements;
- Yield performance;
- Quality traits for end-use applications.
Access to information on the crops and cultivation techniques is essential, but so is access to knowledge of the market needs and a well-functioning supply chain.
What is needed to succeed
Efi: “Besides the technical information of the crops, farmers must understand the market need for the industrial crops that they want to start growing.”
A supply chain is the second necessary step if there is a market need for a specific crop.
Most industrial crops are cultivated in smaller areas compared to conventional agricultural crops.
Therefore, their supply chains are not well established, like from the farm to the factory, which can lead to problems in harvesting, transportation, pre-treatment, etc.
Bringing together all the relevant actors in the supply chain is critical.
This could include farmers, advisors, scientists, farmers’ unions, farmers’ cooperatives and industry.
In this respect, EIP-AGRI Operational Groups and European projects such as Horizon thematic networks (like Panacea) can provide the necessary help to farmers on both how to grow the industrial crop and how to build a strong supply chain.”
Hay for industrial purposes, Polish farmer Mateusz Ciasnocha works on his family farm in the Żuławy Wiślane region in northern Poland, covering 720ha of land.
They export hay within the European Union for paper production, animal consumption and energy.
Mateusz used his network to identify potential buyers in setting up a supply chain.
Mateusz: “I spoke with several people in my network and asked them for referrals to their colleagues.”
“You can get access to markets through building relationships with your customers.”
“We are not venturing into more exotic industrial crops because the markets and supply chains don’t exist here in Poland.”
“But, I am convinced that as soon as there is demand for a particular crop, the supply chain will follow!”
The experiences of Mateusz with industrial crops are “good”.
Mateusz: “First, these crops could offer a higher profit per hectare than other crops in marginal areas.”
“Input costs in growing can sometimes be lower than in the case of food or feed crops.”
“Therefore, this offers an attractive economic opportunity for a farmer.”
“Finally, we cannot forget the environmental benefits of industrial crops, including the potential to diversify your crop rotation, enhance soil health or reduce erosion.”
“So, with industrial crops, you can generate revenue and simultaneously improve the health of your soil.”