Crops to Combat Climate Change

field of crop

When we think of British farming, we traditionally think of carrots and cabbages and other allotment staples. While soft fruit can thrive, even flourish (especially with a polytunnel to help them on their way), there are huge swathes of crops that feel unattainable to the British grower. 

As climate change creeps up upon us, farmers and forward thinkers are looking for ways to mitigate the effects. While some people are looking at alternative methods, others are exploring the crops themselves, believing we need new crops for a new climate. 

 

Chickpeas

chickpeas

Hodmedod’s are in their third year of commercial chickpea growing in Norfolk. Naturally, chickpeas are associated with Indian, Mediterranian and Middle Eastern cuisine and the climates that go with them, which makes their appearance in Norfolk a surprise. That is not to assume that it has all been smooth sailing, chickpeas were the chosen crop at Hodmedod’s because of their ability to fix their own nitrogen and cope with more water and heat stress, however, the weather over the last three years has been testing that theory.  

You can buy British grown chickpeas on their website and check out their incredible story of returning some of our indigenous pulses back onto our plates.

 

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes

In recent years the sweet potato has become the potato of choice for many Brits for health reasons and up until recently, we had to import all of our sweet potatoes. After several years of trial and error, Watts Farms has managed to produce a variety that is resistant to frost and palatable to the British taste bud. Through a combination of the correct variety and ideal conditions (they are grown in light soils through a mulch which allows warmer soil temperatures that produce good-sized potatoes) sweet potatoes are officially grown on British soil

 

Quinoa

Quinoa grain

An ancient grain that has come back into vogue in recent years due to its health benefits. Originating in South America, it isn’t the most natural fit for the British climate, however, after many field tests, The British Quinoa Company have carved out a market for their homegrown superfood.  While unable to get the traditional varieties of Quinoa to thrive, they have succeeded with varieties that have been bred for the European climate. From their first harvest of 20 tonnes, The British Quinoa Company now produces around 700 tonnes a year to keep up with public demand of British grown quinoa. They are also now trialling new alternative crops including red quinoa as they continue to diversify. 

Wine

grapes

British wine gets a bad reputation, for years people have experimented with a British vineyard and though they have succeeded, it has never been on a scale to rival the French counterparts. However, with the effects of climate change being felt, the UK now has the temperatures to grow the in vogue varieties - like pinot noir. Evidently, Taittinger is assured of the success of British grown grapes as it bought a piece of Kent to grow it ‘Cremant d’Albion’. Though still unable to compare with our French compatriots, there are still some award-winning English wines out there that are helping to put our vineyards on the map. 

However, grape growing is not just about heat, while we may have soaring temperatures, we also have an element of unpredictability in British weather. Heavy rains in mid-September, cold snaps in May affect the yield and taste of the fruit and are to be contended with. While the continent is seeing its vineyard yield decrease due to heat and drought, England and Wales are seeing the dawn of British wines. 

 

Watermelons

watermelons

The last couple of years we have seen British grown watermelons on the supermarket shelves that are so good they are barely indistinguishable in taste from the Spanish imports. While watermelons are still considered exotic, there has long been an effort to create varieties that are better suited to a British climate and soil. 

As temperatures continue to soar in the summers, it is likely that more exotic crops (such as watermelons) will become a possibility for being grown at home. The flip side of this is that crops that are used to the British climate, may indeed find it too hot. While there is work to ensure more heat resistant varieties, other growers are locating further North in search of cooler temperatures.