Farmers seeking to diversify from commodity crops such as wheat, touted as a way to lower agriculture’s environmental impact, face hurdles including a lack of seed variety and plant-care products for minor crops, French agricultural researcher INRA said.
Obstacles also include a dearth of documentation about how to grow crops such as linseed or hemp, and a lack of markets, Paris-based INRA wrote in a report published on its website on why crop diversification has been lackluster.
In France, Europe’s largest agricultural producer, farmers plant a fifth of the country’s 27 million hectares (66.7 million acres) of farmland with wheat every year. Crop specialization in the past 40 years has increased pesticide and water use and pollution by agriculture, INRA said.
“Crop diversification is not making much progress,” INRA wrote. The study “confirmed the hypothesis of lock-in regarding the crop-system specialization,” the researcher said, referring to a situation where a dominant product benefits from economies of scale.
One of the main obstacles for farmers to growing minor crops is a lack of varieties adjusted to various growing conditions, or to meet particular customer demands, INRA wrote.
Many plant-protection products are not certified for minor crops because the market size means they’re of limited economic interest to agrochemical companies, according to INRA.
“The absence of a chemical solution to respond to parasite problems or weeds is perceived as an additional risk by the farmers, and therefore constitutes a brake on the development of diversification crops,” INRA said.
While the world has more than 50,000 edible plants, just 15 provide 90 percent of the world’s energy intake, according to the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization. Rice, corn and wheat jointly provide 60 percent of energy intake.
INRA’s study followed a demand by the ministries of agriculture and environment to find out what is holding back crop diversification in France, the researcher said.
The government can support crop diversification by funding research, tracking statistics for minor crops, promoting use of different crops and pushing to reduce input use by farmers, according to INRA.
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