On 4th June (Villava, Navarra), in collaboration with the Navarre Institute of Agro-food Technology and Infrastructures (INTIA), the Spanish Agro-food Cooperatives organised a conference on crop diversification within the framework of the PANACEA Project. This project aims to disseminate applicable cases of non-food crops close to the reality of the market, as well as promote cooperation between the agricultural community, industry and research, with the aim of increasing the contribution of non-food crops to the European Bioeconomy Strategy.
The conference, during the morning, aimed mainly at farmers and cooperatives (but also at other agricultural professionals, bio-products industries, research and teaching staff, administration and regulatory bodies), was developed with the aim of transferring knowledge and training on the management, profitability and marketing of new crops. In addition, this event was an extension of the day organized last March 12 in Madrid (“Value chain in new non-food crops”), during which the experiences of several cooperatives such as Cocope, Alcamancha and Acor, as well as other companies and research centers (Camelina Company, INTIA and CIEMAT) were transmitted.
Although PANACEA exclusively pursues the dissemination and implementation of non-food crops, the day was divided into two distinct blocks with the aim of offering farmers and cooperatives a wide range of diversification alternatives, regardless of the type of crop. In this sense, entities such as the National Institute of Agricultural Research and Technology and Food (INIA), INTIA, the Public University of Navarra (UPNA) and the company Leche Pascual shared their experiences with some food crops in which there could be opportunities and market niches (yeros, almortas, lupins and sorghum), as well as with others more developed such as soya, but of scarce implantation in Spain. They also shared two European projects in which they are working from CSIC (LIBBIO project) and INTIA (PROTEVEG project).
The case of Leche Pascual stood out especially because they have managed to transform a problem into an opportunity made reality for Spanish farmers. Santiago Matesanz, who is responsible for purchasing soya in Leche Pascual, explained how, not seeing the quality requirements satisfied in terms of the concentration of pesticides present in soya that were traditionally imported from non-EU countries (for the marketing of their soya milk), he gradually opted for a national production with which he could not only guarantee and control the growing conditions, but also benefit and improve the conditions of the farmers involved. In this way, in 2019 it has been possible to cover 100% of its needs from soya grown exclusively in Spain. In addition, the model established by this company also satisfies one of the consumer’s booming demands: kilometre 0 products.
On the afternoon, the “focus” was placed on non-food crops, with the PANACEA project being presented first and some agronomic characteristics of the crops with which it is working (miscanthus, calendula, sorghum, camelina, etc.), as well as the situation and perspectives in relation to the bio-economy and the bio-products market. Although this market is currently stagnant, the commitments made by large companies in the agrifood sector seem to augur well for a strong development in the coming years. For his part, Aníbal Capuano (Technical Director of Camelina Company) presented the different varieties of camelina developed in recent years, as well as the potential that this crop has in Spain and his interest in contacting farmers interested in diversifying. INTIA also provided relevant information on the possibilities of flax, aromatic crops and their experience with rotations and biomass.
In relation to aromatic crops, Jesús Cía presented the success case of Josenea, a non-profit company that from only 3 hectares has managed to position itself in a few years as a benchmark in the sector, reaching a turnover of € 1 M / year and exporting most of its products to international markets. Although the weather conditions prevented the planned visit to the experimental plots of INTIA, during the morning of the 5th it was possible to visit Josenea’s farm. This visit explained the evolution of the company in recent years and future prospects, focusing on the need to find farmers willing to grow chamomile, mint, peppermint, thyme or basil due to the high demand in the market today.
Therefore, in the course of the event, the demand for raw material from non-food crops such as aromatic ones by the bio-products market (for the production of cosmetics, medicines, flavourings, etc.) became clear, representing a clear opportunity for all those farmers and cooperatives interested in diversifying.