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Capelle, A. 1996. New industrial crops for Europe. p. 19-21. In: J. Janick (ed.), Progress in new crops. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.

New Industrial Crops for Europe

Anthony Capelle


When discussing new crops activities in Europe, it is appropriate to speak about industrial crops for nonfood use or renewable resources. In general, the activities can be divided into three categories: (1) existing crops for new markets; (2) new crops for existing markets; and (3) new crops for new markets. New crops for new markets is fundamental, strategic, and highly risky. Therefore, local and national governments see a function for themselves in stimulating these activities within the framework of their agricultural policy. In defining those respective policies, the following aspects play a role: contribution to solving agricultural problems; contribution to decreasing environmental impact; and contribution to the upkeep of rural structure.

Depending on the situation in each country, variations in policy can be observed. However, some general comments can be made that are valid for each European country:

  1. The change in the common agricultural policy, coupled with the GATT agreement, has led to a substantial decrease in the income for arable farmers.

  2. In the past, a rather inefficient structure was kept intact that protected small farmers in the Netherlands, parts of southern Germany and small parts of France. Support has shifted from product support to income support. Product support in the past led to a strong focus on increasing yields and, hence, to intensivation and overproduction. During the last 30 years, wheat production in the European Community (EC) more than doubled.

  3. By taking land out of production (the crop area for each farm is linked to the volume of wheat produced), this overproduction is diminished towards a more self-supporting level. However, instead of letting this land lie fallow, it may and can be used for growing crops for nonfood use while keeping the income support intact.
It is this last factor, linked with the average area of farms in each country, that determines industrial crops activities. The relatively small scale of farms in the Netherlands and southern Germany means that the majority of the farms do not have to take land out of production, while in France and the U.K. we see large "non food producing" areas. Thus, the maximum theoretical area in the Netherlands that could be taken out of production is about 25,000 ha, but in reality only 10,000 ha is removed from production. In 1995, 250,000 ha of the 1.5 million "non food productive" ha in France were used for growing rapeseed for biodiesel.


In the U.K., three agencies are actively engaged with renewable resources. Firstly, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (MAFF); secondly, the Department of Trade and Industries (DTI); and thirdly, the Office of Science and Technology (OST). Within the framework of the LINK program, a mechanism for grants sponsoring precompetitive research cooperation between industry and research infrastructure (Department of Trade and Industry) there is a budget of £3 million (US$5 million).

Projects are judged by three criteria: (1) industrial involvement; (2) external review by independent experts; and (3) interest of the government itself. A majority of the activities deal with alternative energy sources, especially biomass and short-rotation tree crops for electricity generation. Biodiesel and bio-ethanol are rejected as there is no economical justification. A new policy and strategy is being worked out and expected to be in place in 1996.


The responsability for renewable resources rested with the Agricultural Ministry (Bundesministerium für Ernährung, Landwirtschaft und Forsten) and the Ministry for Research and Technology (Bundesministerium für Forschung und Technologie). However, in 1992, a new body with central coordination responsability and a budget of 55 million DM (US$35 million) was created, the Office for Renewable Resources (Fachagentur für nachwachsende Rohstoffe).

In 1995, 1.5 million ha were taken out of production, besides the assignment of 120,000 ha for nonfood oilseeds and 120,000 ha for nonfood starch and sugar. It is expected that oilseed production will double and reach about 1 million ha. This fact explains the high interest in Germany for biodiesel; rapeseed fits excellently in the crop rotation scheme. There is also a tendency to focus more on starch products and lubricant additives. Within the framework of EC research programs, some attention is given to "new" crops, such as marigold, crambe, and high-erucic rape.


In 1994, the responsability for renewable resources was shifted to a newly created organization, AGRICE (agricultural and chemical industry). This organization is a cooperation between the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Technology and Research, and the Ministry for the Environment, together with the French petroleum institute and the production organizations for wheat, sugar beet, and oilseeds. The budget is 65 million FF (US$12 million), of which one third is contributed by industry and agricultural production organizations.

In 1995, as in Germany, 1.5 million ha were taken out of food and feed production, with about 250,000 ha for rapeseed production (350,000 expected in 1996). As in Germany, attention is mainly focussed on biofuels, almost exclusively biodiesel, but about 8,000 ha of wheat are grown for bio-ethanol.


The responsability for renewable resources lies with the Ministry of Agriculture and is coordinated by the Office for Agricultural Research (DLO). Over the last four years, the budget has been Hfl.90 million (US$50 million), which was spent over three large programs and several small ones. The budget for 1996 is still being discussed.

There is almost no surface taken out of production due to the relatively small scale of arable farms. The approach to new crops/industrial crops in the Netherlands is markedly different from the other European countries. At a rather early stage, the Council for Agricultural Research (NRLO) advised a strong market-driven approach with a focus on vegetable oils, essential oils, fibers, and starch. This resulted in three major programs: (a) hemp with a budget of Hfl.17 million (US$9 million); (b) oils with a budget of Hfl.9 million (US$5 million); and (c) caraway with a budget of Hfl.9 million (US$ 5 million). These program's terminated end of 1994.

One of the main conclusions drawn from these programs is that, despite the professed market pull/orientation, involvement of industry was too low. Commercialization was only initiated in those occasions, where industry saw a strategic advantage. This is happening with marigold as a source for resins for the paint and varnish industry, crambe as a source of erucic acid for the oleochemical industry, and caraway as a source for carvone for anti-sprouting agents.

It was also concluded that the presence of a processing industry even on a small scale, is an absolute necessity for providing industrial partners with enough material for industrial trial runs. Within the EC-sponsored VOSFA research program (Vegetable, Oils for Specific Fatty ocids), the following oil seed crops are studied in the Netherlands: marigold, dimorphotheca, lesquerella, euphorbia, and lunaria. Agronomics, processing of the seeds and application of the various oils are studied by a consortium of institutes and industries.


Framework programs are the vehicles by which renewable resources are studied. Each framework program has a duration of four to five years. Between the subsequent programs there is an overlag of one year to safeguard continuity. The third framework program AIR II (Agro Industrial Research) consisted of shared-cost projects, demonstration projects and concerted actions. The fourth framework program FAIR (Fisheries Agro Industrial Research) is being defined now. The budget for the period 1995 to 1998 totals ECU620 million (US$750 million) for agricultural research in general. Of this amount, about ECU150 million (US$200 million) is earmarked for industrial crops/renewable resources. The Netherlands will, based on previous experience, receive about 10% of this sum. Most projects deal with fiber and wood.

For oilseeds, the VOSFA program started as a follow-up to the VOICI program this year. The research deals with breeding, growing, and processing of oilseeds aimed at lubricant additives, the paint and varnish industry, and cosmetics. The budget for this program is US$2.0 million. The earlier VOICI program (Vegetable Oils for Innovation in Chemical Industry) (budget US$2.5 million) focussed on crambe, limnanthes, and dimorphotheca.


European new crop activities will be a booming business in the coming years, especially for the production of biodiesel. It is foreseen that in 1997 production of 1 million tonnes will be reached. In addition to biofuels, new oilseeds are being considered for use in the paint and varnish industry. Calendula looks very promising with a potential of several ten thousands of tons. Furthermore secondary metabolites have demonstrated their potential. Carvone from caraway for use as an anti-sprouting agent used during storage of potatoes. The market potential for use on table potatoes is estimated at several thousands of tons, equivalent to then thousand hectares. In the case of seed potatoes, where no chemical additive can be used the potential is even larger due to the reversible character. The anti-sprouting activity of carvone is now gradually replacing synthesized chemicals.
Last update May 23, 1997 aw