From nettles to knickers

THERE‘S NO sting in wearing this bikini, even though it is made from nettles. Soft and comfortable it is an example of the exciting potential of non-food crops which can often be put to several uses.

Changes to the CAP mean there is commercial potential for UK farmers to grow such crops and research at the Central Science Laboratory (CSL) at York is proving this.

To find out more visit the non food crops stand (E230) at the Royal Show and as well as technical advice, enjoy the mid-afternoon fashion show of garments made from such diverse plants as hemp, beech, wheat and flax.

“In future farmers will need to look to specialities to add value to farming and the wider rural economy,” said Melvyn Askew, head of agricultural and rural strategies at CSL.

“There is a range of fibre crops that can be used to make high value commodities in relatively small markets. We have already grown clones of the nettles used in the bikini.

“They come from Austria and the plants grow 8ft tall and are of the same family as the common stinging nettle. I can see these being grown commercially in the UK within three years.”

The nettles are perennial, take a year to establish and can be harvested in the second year. The fibre is heavy but soft and can even be knitted.

The flowers can be put to culinary use and the plants are of tremendous benefit to wildlife while in the field.

Non-food crops have many applications and it is anticipated that the market, particularly for the polymers such as those made from wheat starch, will increase quite quickly.