9th December 2020
By Roland Sebestyén
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Scotland could become the home of a large number of alternative crops, such as cannabis, hemp, and mushrooms, according to researchers at SAC Consulting.

According to the report, the full range of alternative crops could be so huge that it may be recommended for farmers to focus in on one area with the most potential and market value.

South Scotland, which covers 1.12 million hectares, is well-known for its agricultural and forestry history. Now, with ever-changing environmental and technological demands, the area might be in a great position to utilise the properties that have given it this reputation.

The report states that the proposed area accounts for “15% of Scotland’s crop area, with predominantly cereal production, but potatoes and vegetables also grown, and arable farms larger than the Scottish average.”

However, data shows that the majority of land in South Scotland is unsuitable for growing crops. Reportedly, lands around the East of the Borders, and some pockets in coastal areas of Dumfries and Galloway have the most potential to home the alternative crops.

In the report, it is stated that “in order to develop a methodology for assessing viability, interest, and potential for further investigation, a scoring system was developed to consider: climatic suitability; output per hectare; land quality requirement; transportation costs of raw materials; the need for specialist processing; local market demand; and scalability of production and the market.”

The researchers have chosen ten novel crops to be investigated for development in South Scotland.

The list is the following:

  1. Pharmaceutical crops
  2. Soft fruits
  3. Mushrooms
  4. Short rotation forestry
  5. Fibre and energy crops
  6. Bark for tannin extraction
  7. Ancient cereals
  8. Sugar beet
  9. Nutraceutical crops
  10. Cut flowers

Cannabis has been listed among the pharmaceutical crops as a potential alternative crop which could give a boost to agriculture in Scotland.

In terms of land accessibility, the James Hutton Institute made a dataset using soil maps, landscape/topographic and climatic information to be interpreted into land classification maps. They ranked the lands based on their potential productivity and cropping flexibility, with Class 1 representing the highest agricultural value, and Class 7 the lowest.

It is estimated that only 2.8% of the land in South Scotland is suitable to grow medicinal cannabis on – also, it requires a rather high quality of land, LCA 2 or higher, appropriate weather conditions.

At the same time, further talks with the Home Office regarding the protection of cannabis growing farmers and businesses must be a priority. With professional guidance on licensing, the UK would be able to reduce the import of CBD and begin to increase the supply of medical cannabis and wellness products that the population is increasingly interested in.

Professor David Roberts, head of agriculture and business management in SRUC’s southwest region, said: “Some traditional farmers may say we are being ridiculous but we just want them to consider moving into different products that have a growing market.

“The important thing with medicinal cannabis is to check out the legal requirements. Almost certainly, people would have to partner with a company with expertise that is already operating in this area.

“There are companies that may want farmers, who have large greenhouses that are not being used, to be growers for them. Medicinal cannabis production may be difficult for an individual but might be feasible for a co-operative group.”

For more information, visit https://www.sruc.ac.uk/

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