Alternative Crops for UK Smallholders and Farms

With the ever changing climate and faster developing technologies, a new form of agriculture is emerging. These facts have given rise to a new generation of farmers and farming practices which attempt to capitalise on these developments. A whole new batch of crops as well as forgotten, traditional crops are now being grown throughout the UK:

1) Value Added Products - These are products that add value to the base crops(s) being grown. Products such as cheeses, dried fruits, alcohol, teas, jams, soaps, sausages, jerky and extracts can add profitability. With a return to small scale production and manufacture, this group of products is becoming ever more popular. 

2) Aquaculture - Depending on what types of water is available to the farmer, a wide variety of fish and crustaceans can be raised. Ponds, lakes and saltwater bodies can be used to raise trout, crawfish, oysters, catfish, tilapia, bait fish clams and more. This also takes some of the pressure off of wild fish stocks.

3) Feed and Forage for Livestock - Growing hay for other livestock farmers. Grains such as birdseed, sunflower and millet make for great poultry feed and crops such as turnips and beets are great for livestock foraging. 

4) Fruits and Nuts - With increased awareness of "carbon footprints" and "food miles", there has been a recent re-emergence of soft fruit growers in the UK. Heirloom apples have also gained popularity as well as wild grown nuts such as hazel.

5) Agroforestry - Growing trees as a crop can be rewarding as wood will always be desirable as a form of building material. Although limited by season, Christmas trees can also be a good option. Bamboo is another great multi use product and is used in many industries from construction to clothing. Depending on the type and quality of the wood, producing fire wood for traditional stoves and hearths is also an option. Wild nuts are also highly sought after. Another possible source of revenue is tree seed collection. Finally, hemp is also worthy of a mention. Hemp is ideally suited to the UK climate, is easy to grow and is useful in a wide range of industrial, medicinal and agricultural processes. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding hemp is still present, however the increasing need for hemp derived products is driving the market exponentially. Time to get on board.

5) Horticultural and nursery plants - Aimed at the burgeoning home gardening market, there are a variety of products suited to this sector ranging from cut flowers (decorative) to bedding plants, bulbs, annuals and vegetable starts.

6) Medicinal plants - Generally taking the form of volatile oils extracted form woody and herbaceous plants, they are used in a variety of ways ranging from food flavorings to dietary supplements to fragrances and food preservatives.

7) Livestock - For the sake of bio diversity and increasingly varied pallets, a wide variety of animal are being raised for meat, fur and other by-products. Often, these are non-native species of fauna such as buffalo, alpaca, rabbits, duck, doves, geese, peacock, turkey, quail, goats, llamas, horses and more. 

8) Speciality vegetables - Will probably need to be grown under glass or possibly using hydroponics. Out of season vegetables can be profitable and can help lessen the carbon footprint. Peppers (chili and sweet), micro greens, mushrooms (medicinal and edible), sprouts are all growing in popularity. 

9) Fibers, fuels and edible oils - With the growing need for carbon fuel alternatives, oil producing seeds are becoming ever more relevant. Rapeseed, flax and borage are all growing in demand. There is also a growing niche market for cosmetics additives such as sunflower, comfrey, jojoba, lupine and milkweed.

Moving away from traditional crops can be daunting however it has now been demonstrated and documented that there is plenty of money to be made from these alternative products. Are they for you?

The Bushgear Team