6 June 1997

Medical crops plan

FIFTY farmers in the East Anglia 5b region have joined forces with specialist consultants Agros Associates to grow plants for the medicinal market.

With EU and MAFF funding, the partnership plans to harvest 2000ha (4940 acres) within four years, reaching a peak of 20,000ha (49,400 acres) by 2015 if there proves to be adequate market demand.

A recent report identified 25 species of plants which are used worldwide for medicinal purposes and are in danger of being harvested to extinction in the wild.

Chris Nix, 5b facilitator, said three sites had been earmarked for trials, and commercial production should start in 1998.

Richard Constanduros, Agros Associates project manager, said that four different types of plants were being grown. These include oilseed crops for high value fixed oils, such as meadow foam and aromatic crops for distillation for essential oils, such as peppermint and thyme.

Aromatic crops, including marjoram, for dried leaf/seed for the herb market and valerian root and globe artichoke are also being grown for their extracts.

"The idea of this project is to stimulate market development. We already have contractors and end-users interested."

It is the second alternative crop scheme currently underway in the 5b East Anglia region. The Fenland Alternative Crop Technology group aims to set up a visitor centre, where the production of essential oils could be a tourist attraction.

Mr Constanduros said the company had been working on setting up a similar scheme in north eastern Greece, and it was also working with farmers on the Isles of Scilly to produce high value processing extracts and oils. &#42