Growing “new” crops – not yet cultivated in a given region, province or even country – is sometimes dictated by the curiosity of farmers themselves, but much more often by the desire to increase the profitability of crop production by entering new markets. Both approaches are very legitimate and justified, but before sowing the seeds of such “new” plants we should find out what the risks of cultivating such plants may be, apart from the potential benefits.
These may include:
- quickly following lack of marketability of the raw material produced, because the market niche is very small, or a much cheaper raw material of a ‘new’ plant is already imported from another country,
- no, or limited, opportunity to control volunteer seeds of the plant in other crops because there has been no need for such an herbicide to date, or the crop and the volunteer belong to the same botanical family,
- the appearance of agrophages that were previously absent or only in low intensity, to which the cultivation of a “new” crop is eminently favourable,
- the possibility of importing new diseases and pests that are present on the seed/seedlings of the ‘new’ plant or in the seed/seedling material, or difficult-to-control weeds or even invasive plants into the growing area.
Cultivation of ‘new’ plants, not previously grown in the region, province or even the country, should be preceded by detailed prior research:
- the stability of the market for raw material from this plant,
- optimum cultivation technology adapted to local conditions for this crop,
- the risks posed by the cultivation of this plant to farmland and its surroundings.
Such identification should be carried out with the help of professional advice, preferably also from the company that will contract the raw plant material produced and from other consulting companies in the country or even abroad. The latter case may be of particular importance if the plant is previously not cultivated in Poland, but it turns out that it is widely grown in some other region of the world. Old, written, national cultivation manuals can also be a valuable source of information for the farmer, when it turns out that we are not undertaking the cultivation of a completely “new” plant, but are returning to the cultivation of a plant that has been forgotten, but once grown.
Any risks arising from the introduction of a new crop must not come as a surprise to the farmer, and the decision to take on the crop must be fully informed and based on sound knowledge.
The appearance of unknown or previously absent plants on a farm can have many sources. They may be alien or indigenous plants brought in as seed with the seed, carried by wind or animals from outside the farm, or previously present but whose presence was marginal. Any occurrence or increase in occurrence of such plants should be recorded in the crop/field records and analysed, as it may indicate the need for new measures or changes in cultivation or plant protection techniques. New plants should be identified as they may be invasive species not previously present, although native, indicating increasing herbicide resistance or faulty soil cultivation.
Documenting the appearance of new/unusual/hitherto unknown plants in our fields can serve a twofold purpose:
- the protection of species of natural value, e.g. appearing on baulks, at mid-field ponds or on the edges of forests. The reaction to this can be to report the appearance of such plants to the regional director of environmental protection,
- control of new weeds that have not previously occurred in this environment.
The response should come down first to thinking about what might be the source of these new weeds, e.g. seed, a poorly cleaned combine, after harvesting the crop from another farmer for example. Then to counteract the spread of the new weeds, if they are single individuals, removing them from the field and taking care not to spread the seed. If they are already larger clusters of this weed, it is necessary to select an herbicide that controls these species. Sometimes the emergence of new weeds can be related to the taking into cultivation of completely unfamiliar fields, whether purchased or leased. The history of these fields, e.g. the rotations used there, the one-sided nitrogen fertilisation, the lack of liming, can make species hitherto unknown to us grow there willingly. In this case, bringing the field into good agricultural condition often makes these new, troublesome weed species disappear. The best way to document the occurrence of new/unusual/hitherto unknown plants in the field is to take photos and add a short description of the date of appearance, the crop, the habitat where the species appeared. It is also a good idea to note down the geographical coordinates of where the photo was taken according to GPS, so that we can later assign it to a specific place in the field and control it in the future. Similarly, a good way of documenting the various problem spots in the fields, e.g. heavy weed infestation, damping-off, lodges, manure piles, former field boundaries and whorls, etc., is to mark these spots according to a GPS receiver mounted on a phone or laptop. This kind of documentation allows us to overlay different layers of spatial information on top of each other, such as areas of new weed emergence or yield maps.