REAL OPPORTUNITIES exist for producers to make a profit out of non-food crops, but it is not going to happen overnight.

This was the general consensus at the first annual Green Supply Chain conference at the Central Science Laboratory in York (Nov 4-5).

The government‘s inability to offer long-term commitment to new projects was highlighted as a barrier to growth, while fuel security and environmental issues are driving the non-food crops industry forward, experts agreed.

The Treasury was unlikely to offer more than a 3-5 year commitment to novel crop projects, because it was prevented from binding a future governing power, said junior DEFRA minister, Lord Whitty.

But he admitted non-food crops could produce a “substantial” income for agriculture and that a long-term strategy was needed to improve confidence.

A joint DEFRA/Department of Trade and Industry strategy for non-food crops was also officially launched at the conference.

The launch is great news, said Jeremy Tomkinson, chief executive for the National Non-Food Crops Centre.

“The main thing is that we now have a strategy – it was something that was missing before.

“But will farmers still be around if we take five years to come back to them with viable contracts? That is a worry,” he said.

The reformed agricultural policy resulting from the Mid Term Review meant that farmers would not have to jeopardise cash flow when trying new crops, he said.

“Non-food crops could be a major influence in the countryside. Technology doesn‘t seem to be the problem, the real difficulty is getting the commerce right,” he concluded.

For the latest news and views on non-food crops, visit our new non-food crops section on FWi.