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Potential for grass for new industrial market or as an environmental break crop in arable rotations farming - IF0121

This desk study will focus on identifying and quantifying new and emerging opportunities for utilizing grass species and lucerne for industrial product cropping and the provision of specific environmental services, within the UK’s arable sector. Arable land currently occupies approximately seven million hectares (nearly 30%) of Britain's land surface. Much of it lies on the eastern side of the UK where it is warmer and drier, whilst grassland predominates in the wetter west. Incorporation of grassland into arable systems, whether temporary or semi-permanent, is a traditional component of mixed farming and good husbandry (i.e. soil and disease management), and historically has often reflected changing commodity prices.

The scope of the study covers (1) Candidate species, (2) Industrial products, (3) Environmental services, (4) Agronomic context, (5) Socio-economic context, (6) Edaphic determinants.

Candidate species will include the major temperate grass species cultivated in the UK, both currently and historically,together with species adapted, or potentially adaptable to, UK climatic conditions, with proven or potential industrial/environmental value, and lucerne. Where appropriate, the study will also identify shortfalls in the species performance where selective breeding could deliver significant improvements.

The following industrial products will be assessed with respect to candidate species, agronomic requirements, market potential, sustainability, energy efficiency and environmental cost-benefits:-
• Biofuel: Direct combustion.
• Biofuel: Conversion to bioethanol.
• Building and construction (including straws and composite materials).
• Pharmaceuticals (including complementary medicinal products).
• Nutriceuticals
• Fine chemicals.
• Specialist fibres.
• Pulp, paper and packaging.
• Amenity turf production.
• Edible seed products.
• Alternative feed markets (equine feed)

Provision of the following environmental and ecosystem services will be assessed both as stand-alone objectives and, where appropriate, in concert with industrial crop production objectives:-
• Direct and indirect enhancement of faunal and floral biodiversity.
• Enhancement of conservation headland effects.
• Seed-bank conservation.
• Mitigation of nutrient losses (including crop residues) by leaching, run off and gaseous pathways.
• Treatment of industrial, municipal waste and sewage sludges.
• Mitigation of pesticide and herbicide residues and losses to water courses.
• Conservation and efficient use of scarce water resources.
• Flood mitigation and management strategies.
• Water purification including desalinization (i.e. reed-bed systems).
• Improved soil quality/structure/resilience.
• Prevention of soil erosion.
• Carbon sequestration/carbon balance.
• Temporary/trial habitat conversion (e.g. to wetland/washland).
• Enhanced Public access
• Enhanced landscape aesthetics.

The agronomic context encompasses grass break-crops with a duration of 1-4 years following all major arable crops, including vegetables, under both conventional (+/- integrated crop management and stewardship schemes) and organic management, including modern (i.e. winter cereal dominated) and traditional (i.e. spring cereals, root crops and fodder rape) rotational sequences. It will also address opportunities dependent upon semi-permanent and permanent conversion to grassland. Opportunites and constraints to further use of lucerne as a break crop for dried feedstock will also be considered.

The final collated project report to Defra will assess the relative merits of implementation of the above and recommend further empirical research, where needed, to enable application of grassland-based technologies.

To identify and quantify, through means of a desk study, new and emerging opportunities for utilizing grassland species for industrial product cropping and the delivery of specific environmental services within the context of UK arable farming systems.
Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : IF01121 CS and FG Final Report   (745k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2007

To: 2008

Cost: £45,000
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Institute of Grassland and Environment Research (IGER)
Arable Farming              
Integrated Farming Systems              
Sustainable Farming and Food Science              
Sustainable Farming Systems