The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has joined a group of over 20 research partners in a project focused on building farming resilience through the diversification of arable and forage cropping.

The Centre for High Carbon Capture Cropping (CHCx3) is a £5.9 million, four-year project, running from 2023 until 2027, that is led by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB).

The project has been awarded funding by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) under the Farming Futures Research & Development Fund: Climate Smart Funding.

The research project aims to help UK farmers and growers target net zero and build farming resilience through diversifying their arable and forage cropping.

It will also enable new revenue sources through a carbon marketplace and support enhanced value chains for industries such as textiles and construction.

The research will focus on four cropping options:

  • Rotational cover crops;
  • Annual fibre crops (industrial hemp and flax);
  • Perennial food, forage, and feed crops (including cereals and herbal leys);
  • Perennial biomass crops (miscanthus, willow and poplar).

In addition to evaluating their potential to enhance atmospheric carbon capture and sequestration, in the soil and crop-based products, the project will examine the effects of cultivation system and agronomy on economic returns and other environmental outcomes.

The Centre’s ‘Knowledge Hub’ aims to provide resources to support the effective uptake and utilisation of crops with high carbon-capture potential, with practical outputs such as crop guides, web tools and apps available to landowners, farmers and agronomists.

NFU chief science and regulatory affairs advisor, Dr Helen Ferrier, said: “One source of opportunity for farms to build resilience, and get a return on investment from diversification – is emerging carbon markets.”

“This project contributes to a route for farmers in supplying fibres and feedstocks from high carbon capture crops.

“There’s broad relevance here for different sectors and locations; so, in areas of uncontrollable flea beetle pressure, cereal growers are looking for a profitable alternative to oil seed rape as a break crop.

“And livestock farms, at particular risk as BPS is removed, could build resilience by growing these crops on grazing and forage land.”

Open days

The NFU said progressive arable growers interested in exploring new cropping plans and markets should explore the possibilities of natural fibre crops at an open day from the CHCx3 project.

The event will take place from 10:00a.m until 5:00p.m on July 4, 2024, at Atkins Farm, Field Hall, Field, Uttoxeter.

There will be a fibre crops display which will allow attendees to see the versatility of fibre hemp and flax, with various market-ready varieties showcased.

Experts will be present to discuss genetics, the practicalities of growing these crops and the potential end markets.

There will be rotating tours from 10:00a.m until 3:00p.m featuring special guests, including growers, contract specialists and researchers from the CHCx3 project.