Call to boost performance of brassicas

Opportunities for sector to improve currently static performance outlined at Brassica Growers Association Conference.

The brassica sector has several opportunities to improve its currently static performance, Duncan Rawson, a partner at consultancy EFFP, told last month's Brassica Growers Association (BGA) Conference (21 January).

"Brassicas have fantastic health benefits but consumption is static or in decline and innovative products don't seem to be making it to market," he said.

"The industry could collaborate more, horizontally and vertically. Growers could get together on machinery, grading and transport. Why don't we see more producer organisations in brassicas? They can access EU funding. The industry is missing a trick here."

He added: "There is also massive amount of waste - up to 25 per cent doesn't make it to the consumer, mainly through grade-outs."

The UK has the largest area of brassicas as a proportion of field-vegetable crops, according to Dr Hans-Christoph Behr, head of horticulture at German market researcher AMI. "Brussels sprouts consumption is skewed towards the old and younger people won't start eating cauliflower or cabbage just because they get older," he warned.

On the same theme, Jonathan Corbett of marketing agency The Little Big Voice, which runs the industry-backed Love Your Greens campaign, said: "We have to present brassicas to a wider audience. The website has been made more attractive to children and will help schools include brassicas in their lessons."

Meanwhile, securing approvals for new crop-protection products "is becoming more difficult and uncertain", Bayer CropScience food industry manager Stephen Humphreys told the conference. "Member states often vote against measures just because they have no stake in them," he said. "There is also a lack of resources to assess (new products)." Were the UK to leave the EU, "we would have a better environment to work in", he added.

BGA chairman Matthew Rawson described the impending loss of the broad-spectrum insecticide Dursban WG as "a big worry".

Health benefits - Wonder compound hailed

Professor Ian Clark of the University of East Anglia told the conference he has "become a convert" to brassicas' ability to reduce the risk of the painful disease osteoarthritis.

Clark led research published last summer on the effects of the "wonder compound" sulforaphane on the joints of mice that he said led to a "media frenzy" at the time.

"Now we want to test it in humans and are halfway through recruiting patients awaiting knee replacements," he said.

British Growers Association chairman Matthew Rawson added: "We need to grab hold of health benefits like this."

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