Advancing sea buckthorn
When I applied for a Nuffield Farming Scholarship, I really did think my proposed topic was just a bit too unusual to be considered. As a fledgling sea buckthorn entrepreneur, I had already identified that a lack of knowledge and an absentee market were going to pose significant challenges for the future of the crop in the UK.
Public health in western societies is deteriorating. Much of this is attributable to poor diet. Opportunities exist for agriculture to deliver a revolution of healthy foodstuffs. Sea buckthorn is perhaps just one of many novel crops that could satisfy the increasing consumer appetite for health.
Sea buckthorn is a functional food, high in antioxidants and a credible source of essential fatty acids. It represents a unique value proposition to an expanding demographic of increasingly health conscious consumers.
It was clear that in order to promote sea buckthorn to potential UK consumers and growers, a more thorough and credible understanding of the crop was necessary. Established sea buckthorn growers are spread out across many countries and continents; I set out to try and visit as many as possible. From the technologically advanced to the subsistence, it was critical to gather a complete insight into the scope for this fruit as a crop enterprise.
Most crops have various agronomic challenges associated with pests and diseases and sea buckthorn is no different in that respect. The distinct production challenge that sea buckthorn has is the harvesting. There are numerous different approaches, but none of them are optimal. Inefficient harvesting accounts for over 50% of the production costs. An innovative combination of technology and breeding will have to be used to address this issue. If and when a breakthrough is discovered, significant efficiencies will be realised.
Production is only one half of the task though. The market in the UK is just beginning to develop. Elsewhere in the world sea buckthorn is big business. The fruit is part of the culture and consumers are well aware of its healthy characteristics. In the UK the consumer isn’t particularly aware of either sea buckthorn or its potential benefits.
I visited both establishing and well-established businesses in comparable fruits such as cranberry, blueberry, blackcurrants, aronia and strawberries. It was important to draw comparisons, to learn the challenges and opportunities they had encountered involved with building their businesses and developing their marketing strategies.
The absence of a developed market is a challenge that is impeding the development of sea buckthorn in the UK. However it also represents a considerable opportunity. Sea buckthorn is well aligned for future consumer demands. There is no reason why it cannot become another fruit success story in the UK.
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