WHAT’S THAT CROP?

The fields of Bri­tain are in full bloom at the mo­ment, with the har­vest al­most upon us. So we asked botanist Dr Sally Fran­cis, who runs her own small­hold­ing in Nor­folk, to talk us through six of the most com­mon crops you might be walk­ing past this month…

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - Identifier The Fields Of Britain Are In Full Bloom -

WHEAT

Our big­gest crop, with 14.5 mil­lion tonnes grown in the UK in 2016. It’s sown be­tween Fe­bru­ary and April; a lot of peo­ple think it’s just grass at the leaf stage, with its chunky blue-green leaves. Dis­tinc­tive wheat ears ap­pear later in the year from July to Au­gust. It’s be­lieved wheat was first cul­ti­vated in the Mid­dle East around 9500BC, and it had reached Bri­tain by 3000BC.

PO­TATO

Vegetable crops like po­tato, car­rot and beet­root can be iden­ti­fied by the way the field is set out, with tram­lines in be­tween vegetable beds to al­low the trac­tor wheels to pass without dam­ag­ing the crop. Ge­netic test­ing has shown that the po­tato was first cul­ti­vated in south­ern Peru be­tween 7000 and 10,000 years ago, but Europe now has the high­est per capita pro­duc­tion of pota­toes across the world.

BAR­LEY

As an in­gre­di­ent for beers and whisky, this is a vi­tal crop for walk­ers. Although mostly grown over win­ter, you can see spring bar­ley now and it’s har­vested in the last three weeks of Au­gust. At the ear stage it has long hairs known as awns. The old English word for bar­ley was bære, and that word sur­vives in the north of Scot­land as bere: a spe­cific strain of six-row bar­ley grown there.

MAIZE

You’re most likely to see this crop in the south of Bri­tain where it is grown for an­i­mal feed, although it does grow as far north as York­shire. It is also used to sup­ply anaer­o­bic di­ges­tion plants that cre­ate elec­tric­ity and gas. It has dis­tinc­tive wide leaves and very recog­nis­able ears which start to ap­pear in late April and May. This crop was first do­mes­ti­cated in Mex­ico around 10,000 years ago, and global pro­duc­tion to­day is larger than that of wheat or rice.

OIL SEED RAPE

In a 1940s book on Bri­tish crops this war­ranted just a half-page men­tion, but now this bright yel­low-flow­ered bras­sica is march­ing across the coun­try­side. Its in­crease is driven in part from our move away from an­i­mal fats, although it is also used as an­i­mal feed and for biodiesel. Its name de­rives from the Latin for turnip, ra­pum, and it was first recorded in Bri­tain at the end of the 14th cen­tury.

SUGAR BEETS

These are grown un­der con­tract to Bri­tish Sugar within a cer­tain ra­dius of one of their four pro­cess­ing plants, mostly in the east of Eng­land. Sugar beets were not grown on a large scale in the UK un­til the mid-1920s. Be­fore the First World War, with its far-flung em­pire, Bri­tain sim­ply im­ported its sugar from the cheap­est mar­ket. But the war cre­ated a short­age in sugar, prompt­ing the de­vel­op­ment of a do­mes­tic mar­ket.

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