Crop diversification could help growers to cope with an increasingly demanding growing environment, a conference at Warwick Crop Centre has heard.
"The UK needs new crop varieties to overcome challenges such as drought, flooding, seawater inundation, changing temperatures and novel pests," said Dr Ragab Ragab of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.
Crops such as quinoa and amaranth "are tolerant even of high levels of salinity", a problem increasingly likely to affect low-lying areas of the UK, he said. "The Netherlands is going ahead with quinoa in areas at risk of seawater inundation."
Poppy Frater, livestock scientist at levy body EBLEX, said: "CAP greening presents opportunities, including improving soil organic matter. Kale gives a good balance between energy and protein, and gives the highest live weight gain in livestock."
Professor Eric Holub of the University of Warwick said kale's success among US consumers was largely down to chef Dan Barber, dubbed "the king of kale" by Time magazine, who convinced the public of the vegetable's nutrition and provenance story.
However, he admitted that his own project to bring cultivation of navy ("baked") beans to the UK has not worked. "Making markets is an expensive business that usually ends in failure."
However, undaunted, he said: "We still want to add beans back into the vegetable-growing system. In France they eat their own beans. There is plenty of scope for market development within British cuisine."
Senova director Chris Green looked at reasons for the failure of several novel arable crops. "All novel crops have a credibility issue," he said. "Niche markets are temporary monopolies since, if they establish, someone else will take a share. To succeed, you need a market at both the premium end and at the bottom end if you don't meet quality specifications."
Meanwhile, willow coppicing "is failing because companies lack confidence in Government policy, which needs to be more long-term", said Green.
Vegetable grower and former NFU horticulture board chairman Sarah Dawson said: "In fresh and frozen you can spend millions bringing a product to market, but the smallest thing can ruin it. If you are a supermarket buyer why would you give up shelf space for it? There is always a hassle factor."
Crop potential Gromwell trialled as source of omega-3 fatty acids
The humble wild plant gromwell (Buglossoides arvensis syn. Lithospermum arvense) has potential as a novel field crop, NIAB Innovation Farm researcher Dr Effie Mutasa-Gottgens told the conference.
The plant is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. The NIAB conducted field trials "to understand the agronomy", she said, concluding that it yields around 0.9 tonnes, worth around £975, per hectare. It is now being trialled commercially in the UK.
Commercial partner TechCrops International now owns the rights to the crop, which it markets as Ahiflower (see www.ahiflower.com).