Research is being undertaken on heritage oat varieties to discover if their genetics can help to improve modern-day varieties, both from an agronomic and nutritional standpoint.
The Healthy Oats project is a collaboration between University College Dublin, Teagasc and two Welsh universities, Aberystwyth University and Swansea University. The project aims to promote the development of oats as a healthy food product and a climate-resistant crop.
At Crops and Cover Crop Cultivations, Dr Cathal McCabe of UCD explained how over 190 heritage oat varieties were evaluated at three sites in Ireland and Wales, before the top 25 best performers were selected for more detailed research.
Yield, disease resistance, lodging, grain physical characteristics, protein, oil and beta-glucan (dietary fibre) were all evaluated. Dr McCabe gave the example of one heritage variety, Sandy, which demonstrated a high level of protein, oil and disease resistance, and a low level of mycotoxin contamination. However, the variety stands at over 1.6m tall, which will of course lead to issues with lodging.
Heritage varieties also have a high nutritional diversity, with protein levels ranging from 11 to 22.3% and dietary fibre from 2.8% to 8.2%.
This huge diversity in agronomic and nutritional traits highlights the valuable resource of genetics that these heritage oats have that may be utilised in future oat breeding programmes to reach specific goals such as disease resistance or a desirable nutritional quality.
Another study aims to identify and quantify the level of Fusarium and other mycotoxins in commercial Irish cereal crops. Mycotox – I is comparing mycotoxin levels among cereal crops in different cropping systems (organic v conventional), sowing dates (winter v spring), crop rotations (following a cereal crop v following a non-cereal crop) and establishment methods (plough v min-till).
The main focus of this survey is on oats, but some wheat and barley crops are also being analysed. This will help to reduce the risk of mycotoxin contamination and demonstrate the quality and safety of Irish grains.
Any growers who would like to participate in this field survey can get in contact with Dr Diana Bucur at email@example.com.