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Natural Fibre Crops – The CHCx3 Project

Natural Fibre Crops at Elsoms

Elsoms is actively engaged in bolstering the supply chain to facilitate the emergence of Hemp and Flax as sustainable break crop choices for farmers in the UK. With a dedicated four-year initiative already in progress, our efforts seamlessly integrated with the CHCx3 project two years ago.

Aiming to develop a marketplace for natural fibre crops, the Centre for High Carbon Capture Cropping (CHCx3) is making significant progress. Led by Dr. Lydia Smith at NIAB, it is a four-year collaborative initiative. Slated to conclude in the spring of 2027, the project is set to develop natural fibre and hemp crops into viable income streams for farmers.

Understanding the CHCx3 project

The CHCx3 project, is a £5.9 million endeavour funded by Defra, delivered in partnership with Innovate UK. The project will establish a framework around the carbon marketplace. It will do this by providing clear indications on the carbon sequestration potential of different natural fibre crops. In the long term, enabling new revenue sources for farmers and fostering a more sustainable future.

Creating a carbon marketplace

A key focus of the CHCx3 project is the cultivation of natural fibre crops, including hemp and flax. Already, a number of farmers across the country are actively participating in trials, growing these natural fibre crops. This hands-on involvement emphasises the collaborative nature of the project. The project relies on a close working relationship between researchers and the farming community.

Benefits of natural fibre crops

Hemp and flax, the stars of the CHCx3 trials, bring a multitude of benefits to both the environment and farmers. Beyond contributing to soil health and reducing environmental impact, these crops offer tangible income potential for growers.

Land enrichment

Hemp and flax are known for their positive impact on soil health. They act as natural cleansers, absorbing toxins from the soil and promoting overall fertility. Farmer Rob Akin, featured in the project, recognises the potential of these crops as a lucrative alternative to traditional options.

‘For us as Farmers, It would provide a very, worthy break crop. I think that there’s definitely a market place for this’

Environmental stewardship

These crops require fewer pesticides and herbicides compared to traditional crops. This further contributes to a reduction in environmental impact and promoting biodiversity.

Income potential

Carbon fibre replacement

The natural fibres have applications in high-grade end markets. Flax is positioned as a potential carbon fibre replacement too, offering a non-shatter characteristic that enhances safety in various applications. ‘Carbon fibre typically shatters very easily under high pressure. But if you incorporate a certain amount of flax into that blend, then the blend actually bends rather than shatters, which has its uses from a health and safety point of view.’ – explains Heather Oldfield from Elsoms. GT4 and F1 both are exploring the possibility of incorporating natural fibres. One part of the CHCx3 project is to develop relationships with different industries who may benefit from natural fibres, to ensure contracts will be available for farmers who choose to grow the crops in the future.

Reviving the UK flax industry

The historical significance of flax in the UK, with a thriving linen market until about 70 years ago, echoes in the aspirations of the CHCx3 project. Another ambition of the project is to revive the flax industry, tapping into these historical roots. The aim is not only to re-establish traditional markets but also to explore and participate in the evolving marketplaces in the UK, breathing new life into the agricultural heritage of the region.Flax baled on trailer

Alternative markets

Beyond traditional markets, the CHCx3 project extends its reach to collaborate with industry leaders in automotive, aerospace, and defence composites. Companies like SHD Composites, specialising in these sectors, are actively testing crops from the fields. IndiNature another company Elsoms are working with, are looking into insulation, sound proofing and mattresses using natural fibres. Additionally, a company dedicated to environmentally friendly construction materials, is involved in the project. They focus on creating replacement plasterboards, aligning with the project’s overarching goal of exploring and promoting sustainable alternatives in various industries. Hemp’s remarkable potential to sequester 18 to 22 tonnes of carbon per hectare, already established through global research, is a key focus. The project aims to demonstrate how this potential can be harnessed in a UK on-farm situation, providing valuable insights for future practices.

Empowering farmers and communities

The CHCx3 project is not just theoretical; it’s a hands-on initiative involving real farmers in real trials. As the project progresses, it aims to develop a recommended style list for crops and an agronomic guide, ensuring that farmers nationwide can confidently integrate these sustainable practices into their operations. This collaborative approach emphasises the importance of unity in achieving sustainable and economically viable farming practices.flax being pulled after retting in a field

The future of natural fibre crops

With farmers actively engaged in growing natural fibre crops as part of the trials, the CHCx3 project stands as a testament to the power of collaboration between researchers and the farming community. It’s not just about cultivating crops; it’s about cultivating a future where agriculture is a driving force behind economic growth, environmental stewardship, and prosperity for generations to come. The involvement of farmers in these trials serves as a beacon, guiding the way towards a greener and more sustainable future in farming.

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