By Gordon Davidson

FARMERS in the south of Scotland are being encouraged to consider growing novel alternative crops such as mushrooms, cut flowers and medicinal cannabis.

A new report published by Scotland’s Rural College has suggested that farmers who are diversifying away from the traditional land uses could also move into producing bark for tannin extraction, sugar beet or ancient cereals which have higher protein and fibre and less gluten.

The report, written by rural business consultant Anna Sellars and professor Dave Roberts, considered the availability and suitability of land in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, and the processing facilities and market conditions needed to foster their development.

It also highlights that post-Brexit trade arrangements are likely to "challenge the status quo" of current food supply chains. Mushrooms – which have largely been produced in Europe in recent years – could instead be grown in Scotland, which has a comparable growing environment to Ireland. Medicinal cannabis, which is now prescribed by the NHS for various conditions such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, and opium poppies, whose seedpods contain codeine and morphine among other substances, both offer opportunities to expand pharmaceutical crop production in the UK.

Consumers are increasingly interested in the sustainability and provenance of what they buy, but although flowers such as roses, lilies, tulips, daffodils and sunflowers can be grown in the UK, currently 86% of cut flowers are imported. These, together with freesia, iris, delphiniums, pinks, carnations, chrysanthemums and peonies, have recently seen a resurgence in popularity, offering another opportunity for farmers.

For in-depth news and views on Scottish agriculture, see Friday’s issue of The Scottish Farmer or visit