Last 10th november in Bologna, about thirty people, belonging to research, farm and industry sectors, have attended the national value chain event focused on oil and multipurpose crops organized by CREA in the frame of PANACEA project. Currently in Italy the non-food crop spreading is still limited at few sugar and starch crops, mainly maize for biogas plants. The new subsidies system is going to limit energy crops for energy production, while the development of an increasing number of biobased industries and biorefineries require the cultivation of new non-food crops. With this regard, oil crops have gain an increasing attention for their multipurpose utilization. According to the need of the main Italian biorefineries, camelina, crambe, cardoon, milk thistle, hemp and flax have been presented as the more promising and near to practice crops in Italy. The discussion has been divided in three main sections: the first concerning the agronomic and mechanization aspects was held by researchers of CREA and University of Bologna; the second part focused on the point of view of farmers by the interaction of a young farmer with the other farmers in the room; the last part about the industrial utilization of new oil crop was held by the representative of a big Italian biorefinery.
- An exhaustive overview of new oil crops has been shown regarding both agricultural and mechanization aspects. Detailed growing systems for each crop have been presented (land preparation, planting operation, fertilisation requirements, etc.) such as practical mechanization suggestions (modify devices or specific head for combine harvesters, optimal regulations for each crop). The ppt presentations could be used for future training courses.
- Farmers attended the Workshop expressed the need to access the market in order to start the cultivation of NFC. In their opinion the overall profitability comes primarily from the market demand more than governmental subsidies.
From the industry side has been shown the importance of a constant dialogue with the agricultural world. Chain contracts are the means to establish such dialogue for the creation of 100% national supply chains to promote Italian agricultural productions.
- Farmers expressed the need for practical knowledge about cultivation and mechanization. Practical sheets could be developed in the frame of the PANACEA project and spread during the upcoming training courses and throughout PANACEA platform.
- In Italy the debate about energy versus food is very heartfelt. So far, this has limited the widespread of non-food crops cultivation. During the meeting it has been highlighted that non-food crops should be produced in the perspective of a hierarchical utilization of biomass, based on the “cascade principle”. Namely, biomass should be used according to its pyramid value (pharmaceutical and fine chemicals, food and feed, chemicals and materials, transportation fuels, power and heat). This is the heart of the concept of a biorefinery itself.
Gaps and Challenges for the uptake of above mentioned innovative NFCs ideas and research:
- Farmers often don’t know what the most promising and near-to practice non-food crops are. They don’t know the real costs and income from non-food crops cultivation. They don’t know the overall benefit, including agronomic, from replacing traditional and not profitable crops with new crops.
- In Italy there here is an increasing demand for non-food crop biomass, but the dialogue among the value chain actors is often scarce. Chain contracts should be promoted to guarantee both market access for farmers and quality of products required by biorefineries.
- There is a lack of practical knowledge for the cultivation of new crops. Knowledge about growing practices and mechanical systems are needed.
- The wrong perception of non-food crops as competitors for the land in the food production limit their wide spreading. Correct information should be given by authoritative bodies such as universities and research centres.