AlpBioEco

Valorisation of innovative bio-economical potentials along bio-based food & botanical extract value chains in the Alpine Space

BM#21 - Alpine hay seeds

Product description

In the Alpine area, the hay meadows (rough pastures) can be used to produce seed material. Every three years, the flowers of Alpine hay meadows can be harvested with a specific machine, cutting off only the top parts of the meadows to harvest the flower heads, still leaving enough hay standing on the meadows for the farmers to harvest it as conventional hay to be fed to animals. The harvested flowers are then dried, stored and packed into large sacks in order to be sold for revegetation purposes. To complete the offer, a revegetation service or advice can be booked, as some knowledge is required to successfully seed Alpine hay flowers. Regional seed material is particularly interesting for the revegetation of building sites, road construction sites, embankments, roofs or other renaturation projects. In addition, the harvested material can also be used for the cosmetics industry, serving as a basis for the production of hay flower distillates and essences. The produced seed material can be used for approximately three years before it loses its germination capacity.
 
Picture: Harvesting Alpine hay seed material for revegetation use in Austria © Conrad Amber, www.conradamber.at

Austria 

For the project, we have worked together with a small horticultural business that is already producing Alpine hay seed material in a test phase, harvested from regional hay meadows owned by farmers for a fee - in this case, 100€/hectare. 

Business and marketing opportunities

Experience shows that there is a small but growing demand for local seed material in Vorarlberg, Austria. The main target groups of the products and its related services are architects, property developers, municipalities, public institutions and also private persons. At present, not many are producing regional seed material from Alpine hay meadows. Although many farmers own hay meadows, they often solely produce  animal fodder. By offering their meadows for a fee every three years to a business that wants to harvest, produce and sell Alpine hay seeds from their meadows, the farmers can get more economic value from their meadows. Mowing the flower heads of these meadows every three years to produce Alpine hay seeds doesn’t affect the productivity or biodiversity of the meadows in a negative way. Also, the farmers can still mow their meadows for fodder production. Thus, this concept is economically interesting for local farmers and for the Alpine hay seeds producer, who doesn’t have to own meadows to get the needed raw material. In addition, the business model contributes to a greater appreciation of Alpine hay meadows, the farmers and farming. This business model is interesting for horticultural businesses, as they can cater to a specific demand with regional seed material. As the awareness of the importance  of biodiversity and regional ecosystems is growing, it is expected that the demand will also grow. In addition, harvesting Alpine hay flower heads is also interesting for businesses from the cosmetics  sector: they can use fresh but also “older” hay seed material that cannot be planted anymore and might be cheaper than fresh material. Those hayflower essences can be used for baths, shower gels, infusions, and so on. Lastly, when the material is too old to be seeded or used in the cosmetic industry, it can still be used as animal fodder.

Implementation hurdles

To successfully implement the business model, the benefits (e. g. adapted to the climate, perfect habitat for insects, has to be mowed only once a year) of regional seed material need to be communicated to the potential consumers and target groups. Currently, there is only mild awareness among consumers of its relevance and benefits. In addition, the aspect of time is an implementation hurdle. The production of regional hay seeds needs to be planned way in advance, as the seeds are only harvested once per year and then still need to be dried. Public institutions, however, often do not plan that far in advance when and how much seeds they need for revegetation undertakings. Often, there are also no existing requirements on the characteristics of seeds, specifying the need for regional seed material in the tender texts. At the beginning of the season, it is not yet possible to estimate how much seed can be sold at the end of the year. As such, estimating the needed production volume is difficult and can easily result in over- or underproduction. Additionally, the harvest naturally depends on weather conditions and on the availability of meadows and the willingness of the farmers to cooperate. Finding a sufficient number of meadows is another hurdle that would probably require collaborating with farmers across regions. Finally, the logistics also appear to be difficult. To produce the seeds, suitable machinery, adequate storage space and the required work-force for manual processing are needed. Furthermore, concerning storage the seeds of the different meadows have to be separated to maintain the local adaptation. 

Suggestions for the next steps

As a first step, it is important to expand the network of relevant actors for this business model. Farmers, horticultural businesses, architects, environmental organisations promoting biodiversity and businesses from the cosmetic industry must be linked by means of this business model. Founding and growing a network for regional hay seed production can be useful, as it enhances the visibility of the product and those involved, eases communication between cooperating businesses and strengthens cooperation. In addition, it increases the identification with the product and region. In this context, marketing of  the network and the specific benefits for members is essential. Therefore, a website with all the information for farmers, consumers, municipalities etc. should be set up. In addition, a short explaining video about, for instance, the harvesting process, advantages of using this seeds or where to buy them, could be really useful. Further, lobbying work and raising  awareness of the product regarding its benefits for biodiversity and regional value creation are needed. 

For further details, please read our Best Practice Brochure