5 January 2001

Onion sets and garlic realistic alternatives

EU-FUNDED ADAS trials have highlighted the potential for some novel crops to diversify arable rotations and add value to East Anglian farming businesses.

In a one-year project, which was funded by the EUs 5b programme, 12 crops, including sweet potatoes, garlic, onion sets and a range of medicinal herbs, were grown in commercial-scale blocks last season.

"The most successful was onion sets," says Sarah Cook of ADAS Boxworth. "There was no difference in the quality of UK sets and Dutch imports.

"We have also shown that sweet potatoes grow here, but harvesting methods need rejigging as current mechanical methods are too rough and damage the skins."

Demand for garlic is rising 10%/year and imports cost to £10m annually. Current UK production is concentrated in southern England, particularly the Isle of Wight.

But ADAS says there seem to be few agronomic reasons to stop the crop from being introduced to East Anglian farms.

Demand for non-GM protein for use in prepared meals is creating interest in novel types of phaseolus beans. These have been bred to be low in substances causing flatulence, and are highly digestible.

The varieties Stop, a fast red type similar to red kidney bean, and the yellow manteca bean Prim were successfully grown in 2000.

Medicinal herbs included valerian, echinacea, St Johns Wort, and wormwood. Valerian has been used for centuries to treat nervous tension and panic attacks, and modern use is as a sleeping pill alternative.

Echinacea purifies blood and is reputed to boost the human immune system. St Johns Wort is used as an anti-depressant, while wormwood improves digestion, fights worm infestations, and has anti-malarial properties. &#42

Onion sets and garlic are promising alternative crops for East Anglian arable farms, says Sarah Cook. But sweet potatoes require a harvesting re-think