You need weeds

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Problem: Weeds have taken over your cornfield. What can you do?

Farm the weeds.

Recent research sponsored by Defra shows that Corn Gromwell (Buglossoides arvensis), a very common weed, is rich in omega-3 and could potentially be grown commercially in the UK for the first time.

Corn Gromwell is native to Europe, North Africa and across Siberia and Western Asia and has also been introduced into the USA. Until recently it was best known a common weed in spring cereal crops.

Agriculture Minister Jim Paice said: “Turning a common weed into a valuable crop is a great example of the innovation that our farming industry is so good at. This research is part of our wider support to help farmers under pressure to diversify and find new markets.”

Essential fatty acids are needed to support our nervous, cardiovascular and immune systems. They can’t be made in the body so have to come from our diets. Corn Gromwell contains stearidonic acid (SDA), an omega-3 fatty acid. It will have the potential to be marketed as a supplement or included as an ingredient in foods.

The research carried out by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB TAG), in collaboration with Technology Crops Limited, looked at whether Corn Gromwell could be grown commercially. The trials found that the crop:

  • needs few inputs and a low amount of fertiliser;
  • doesn’t suffer from many pests or diseases and isn’t palatable to pigeons or rabbits; and
  • has a higher yield and is easier to harvest than the only commercial non-GM plant source of SDA, Echium.

Further information on the project can be found here.

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Publication date: May 2016
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