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New crops - Speciality crops

Table 1 | Molecular Farming

There will always be room for specialised productions, catering goods to a very limited market. Such productions can become a very important source of income for individual farmers with the necessary skills to produce a given speciality item, though niche productions will never be able to solve the problems in rural areas in general.

Examples of such niche productions are:
1. Mint: for pharmaceutical and food and cosmetic industries
2. Mustard: For the food industry
3. Buckwheat; For food industry
4. Hops: As flavour for mainly the brewery industries.


Table 1 shows examples of more untraditional speciality plants that currently are being tested in Denmark, Finland, Germany and Sweden either on a commercial scale (C), in pilot scale (P) or experimentally in lab. scale(E).

The table indicates that the number of potential plants is large. One may however not forget that these crops address very specialised markets. An overall market estimation is not available for the full range of speciality crops and products thereof.

French estimates suggest annual World tonnages of 45.000 tons of essential oils and 50.000 tones of aromatic plants. It is crucial to note, however, that market demands and prices are highly variable and react quickly to market supply, magnitude of potential harvests and quality.

Table 1 derives from an IENICA report to the EU Commission (2000)

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Table 1: Speciality plants with potentials for the Baltic Sea area

Crop	    Denmark	Finland	 Germany	Sweden
Allium		C	  C	    E
Amaranthus	E	  E		          P
Angelica		  P	    C	          E
Artemisia		  E 		          P
Anethium		  P	    C	
Basil		C	  C	
Black currant		  C	    C             C
Caraway		C	  C         C
Chamomila		  C         C	          C
Quinoa		P		    E
Chrysanthemum		  E	    E	
Digitalis		  E         C	
Dill	        C	  C         C	          C
Echinacea	C	  C	    C	          E
Fennel		C         C	
Hypericum	C	  C	    P
Lovage		E	  C	    E
Madder	        E	  E	    E	
Marjoram		  C	    C	          C
Melissa		C	  C	    C
Parsley	        C	  C	    C	
Peppermint		  P	    C	          E
Sage		C	  C         E 
Sambucus		  E         C	          E
Sea buckthorn	E	  C	    C	          P
Taraxacum		  E	    C	
Tagetes	E	E		
Taxus		E 	  E	
Thymus		E	  C	    C
Valerian	E	  P	    C	          E
Woad		P         C                	

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Europe plays an important role in the international trade of medicinal and aromatic plants with an average of 120.000 tons imported annually from more than 120 countries. Germany, Poland and Bulgaria are among the Worlds top exporters. Between 1.200 and 1.300 species native to Europe are commercially traded, and though some species are cultivated, collections from wild still play a major role. The source of these wild plants is mainly Albania, Turkey, Bulgaria, Greece and Spain. The overall volume of wild plants collected in Europe is estimated as 20.000 – 30.000 tons annually. According to “Europe’s Medicinal and Aromatic Plants; their use, Trade and Conservation” at least 150 species are threatened as a result of over-collection, destructive harvesting techniques and habitat loss and change. To this may be added that the pharmaceutical companies, who are processing the wild plants have increasing problems with large variations in qualities and a limited supply security.

The above indicates a potential for development of new markets from potential new crops and cultivation of wild species.

The natural colorant and dyes market is much larger than the medicinal plant market. The value of the food colorant market was in 1989 320 million $, of which approximately 50 % was natural products. The market for natural products is growing by 10 % pro annum. The World’s dye market value as 2.5 billion $ pro annum (1997), and the consumption of dyes to color textiles on a World scale is 700.000 tons pro annum. (IENICA final report, 2000)

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Molecular Farming
There is an emerging interest in molecular farming, especially in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. However still primarily amongst scientists and biotech industries. Workshops have been organised to measure the interest and discuss the benefits and problems. The outcome of these workshops have been positive, and it is now discussed how to proceed.

If molecular farming ever becomes political acceptable and technical feasible, the Baltic Sea islands may be well suited for the establishment of future molecular farming activities. On the islands it would be possible to contain the speciality plants within an enclosed area. The farmers are skilled and they have a well functioning extension service, and it would be possible to set up efficient control systems. It should however be stressed that such productions will not be established in the next many years mainly due to the current public scepticism towards the new biotechnological tools.

Plants have a highly advanced and unique metabolic capacity for synthesising specific high value bio-molecules like sugars, proteins, oils, fatty acids, fibres, flavours, fragrances and health-promoting compounds such as flavonoids. Using novel biotechnological techniques plants can be genetically triggered to produce bio-molecules with a desired functionality or be creation/transfer of other genes be triggered to produce entirely new molecules with novel properties.

Efficient methods have recently been developed for introducing genetic information into plants. Procedures are now also available for expressing transgenes in highly specific organs and tissues. Introduction of genes from other plant species or from animals, fungi or bacteria results in the production of specific components such as fine chemicals, high-value protein, vaccines and other medicines. With the current understanding of the genetic regulation of plant metabolic pathways we are now in a position to modify these biosynthetic routes genetically in a predictable manner. The new technologies have also opened up the possibilities to produce antibodies, interferon, vaccines and industrial enzymes.

Host plants for production of speciality products might be rape-seed, linseed and potatoes.
(report from workshop on molecular farming, february 1998, Copenhagen)

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