It used to be considered a weed, but corn gromwell could soon be a profitable niche crop opportunity producing oil rich in essential fatty acids.
Essential fatty acids are needed to support our nervous, cardiovascular and immune systems. They cannot be made in our bodies so have to come from our diets, typically via fish oils, explains Steven Bentley, non-food crops project manager for NIAB TAG.
“The health benefits of fish oils are generally well-accepted, but with a declining consumption of fish products, alternative sources of these fatty acids are needed for inclusion in our diets.”
Corn gromwell, which contains stearidonic acid (SDA), a pre-cursor that can be converted into the essential fatty acid, omega-3, is a farmer-friendly version of echium, which is the only commercial non-genetically modified source of SDA, says Mr Bentley.
“Echium needs specialist harvesting equipment and, due to its tendency to shed seed as it matures, it needs a high level of management input to ensure maximum yields.
“Corn gromwell, in contrast, can be allowed to senesce naturally and then harvested as a standing crop. It holds onto its seed tightly so seed loss is minimal.”
In a DEFRA-funded Sustainable Arable LINK project, led by NIAB TAG in conjunction with Technology Crops, yields of 0.75-1t/ha have been achieved.
A spring-drilled crop, established around the same time as spring barley, it is harvested in July, says Mr Bentley. “It should provide a good entry into winter wheat, as well as giving the opportunity to address any blackgrass issues prior to drilling.”
A complete agronomy package for the crop has been developed during the project. “This will help minimise the risk to any growers trying the crop for the first time.”
Contracts to grow the crop for seed production could be available next spring, providing further development research is successful this season.
New spring crop option
Produces oil containing omega-3
More farmer-friendly than echium
Yields of 0.75-1t/ha