Work Package 2.1 - Crop and grassland production and disease control
Climate change and pollution due to leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous are driving policies to reduce the levels of inorganic nitrogen and phosphorous used in farming systems. The potential solutions are also encouraging the re-diversification of farming- and food-systems. However, for farms to be sustainable while utilising alternative crops and cropping approaches, it is often the case that the crops and processes need to be adapted for the Scottish soils and climate and with respect to socio-economic issues and constraints. In addition, farmers need to be confident that there is processing capacities in place, and thus markets for these crops. It is therefore necessary to support and develop knowledge of new potential crops, establish cropping systems suitable for the Scotland and new processing streams to accommodate existing or new markets for those crops. The benefits will include a more diverse, and resilient integrated supply chain for plant protein, and new commercial routes for carbohydrates from the same protein crops too. In addition, Scottish fruit including floral crops such as hops need to be empowered by more effective agronomy and marketing e.g. agronomic guidance.
Aim of Research
Novel Crops: To address opportunities for producing alternative protein and carbohydrate crops in Scottish agriculture for fish and crustacean feed, bioenergy, bio-refining, animal feed and human consumption, and to develop design criteria for integrating suitable alternative legume and non-legume crops as sole and intercrops within rotations whilst also accounting for agronomic and ecosystem services.
There are two main areas of research:
1) Nitrogen use efficiency, novel high protein crops and the multiple benefits that arise from innovatively managed cropped systems, and especially legume (i.e. biological nitrogen fixation) supported cropping for more sustainable food, feed and energy production, including novel food and feed formulations. Additionally, this work aims to improve production efficiency of biomass crops (e.g the grass Miscanthus) particularly for marginal land by identifying combinations of Miscanthus and associated plant growth promoting rhizobacteria best suited for these cropping situations.
2) Novel fruit, floral and flora-based crops and associated novel cropping strategies, with the aim of strengthening the Scottish economy via sustainable use of underutilised natural resources. These include the identification of the best agronomic practices for under-cover production of dwarf hop varieties to help support the development of the rapidly expanding craft micro-brewery businesses in Scotland and establishment of a collection of wild Scottish low bush berry populations to characterise genetic types and identify best-fit for purpose populations and practices to underpin their commercial development. Finally, the work aims to identify several native Scottish plant species and their bioactives (extracted chemicals that affect biological processes) which show a high potential to improve health and which are also suitable for large scale in-field commercial production.
In order to gain further understanding of the agronomy of novel crops, trials on cereal-legume intercropping, novel legume crops and Miscanthus (energy grass) were conducted. The approaches accommodated crop product sampling, and measures of product qualities with respect to their various end-markets. Such qualities include short time-to-flowering and yield, the latter including yield components such as protein and starch and other nutritional and organoleptic attributes. For example, data was used to produce a mathematic model to simulate grass-clover swards and under-sown crops. This will assist in understanding the development of these crop partnerships.
Rhizobacteria (bacteria within the zone around the roots) important in the efficient and healthy growth of plants associated with Miscanthus and other novel crops, and seeds of wild legume species which are relatives of existing legume crops have been gathered, and their rhizobia (nitrogen fixing bacterial symbionts) have been isolated. These are the subject of further comparative analysis, since such wild material has the potential to inform and develop commercial crop production.
Collaborations on products for both human and animal consumption using novel crops have included gluten free products (i.e. beverage) using by-products of cropping, and high protein functional foods. The latter was developed incorporating a zero-waste approach and in collaboration with commercial partners (both large and small breweries and distilleries) and the University of Abertay Dundee, there has been significant progress in the use of pulses (e.g. faba bean) in the brewing, distilling and protein isolation areas.
Hop production trials and blueberry research have been carried out. Samples of blueberries have been obtained from a range of sites with varied environmental conditions expanding our understanding of this new crop. These new additions to the blueberry collection have been characterised to further our understanding of distribution of blueberry types. This material has provided wider germplasm for the breeding programme, crosses between the collected materials and selections have been generated and areas of the genome linked to yield have been identified by sequencing a UK population. Further models to assist in the understanding of the effects of winter chilling on blackcurrant and blueberry have been developed.
Utilising the knowledge database of Scottish flora, plant types were selected, and a living Scottish Flora species database has been created. A subset of these were analysed for chemical diversity.
- A recipe book on sustainable crops (high protein) has been produced and launched at MayFest (Aberdeen May 2018) as well as show-cased at a Scottish Parliament SEFARI event – May 2018).
- KE activities include the development and utilisation of the Hop demonstration facility and exchange of ideas on harvesting methods, Hop workshop (Aug 2018) attended by major brewers and covered by STV and newspapers, talks at industry events such as SSCR winter meeting and Fruit for the Future and the production of grower information for release to industry.
- Protein intercropping results have been presented to stakeholders at a range of events including the Innovative Farms field lab event co-ordinated by the Soil Association and as part of the Farm Diversification for New Food Products - Cereals and Alternative Proteins event held at SRUC, around 45 participants - title of presentation "Alternative Protein Crop Options for Scotland". Mixed herbage experiments have been presented to approximately 200 growers, industry reps and advisors as part of the AHDB/FAS/SRUC Winter Roadshow series.
To investigate resource efficiency and productivity in cereal- legume crop mixtures, mixtures of green cover crops and nitrogen-fixing crops crop trials established in 2016 were continued with several new trials added. For example, a Miscanthus trial was established to test the effects of Plant Growth Promoting Rhizobia (PGPRs) on Miscanthus. This is important to understand the agronomy of these crops under the Scottish climate and to supply crops for product development. Such energy grasses can also provide beneficial root bacteria which may be exploited as novel inoculants of cereal crops to improve growth and nitrogen use efficiency.
The direct uses of novel crops and protein sources were investigated in trials assessing the nutritional value of using, for example, faba beans and quinoa as a feed for broiler chickens. Completed investigation of food reformulation (for humans) include enriching high protein crops with phenolics and reducing sugar content. The anti-nutrient content of buck wheat has also been exploited in terms of a potential aid in the treatment of diabetes (type 2), with a buckwheat intervention product being formulated (functional food ingredient).
Two plantations of blueberry were established as a tool to gain data on the establishment and agronomy of this new crop. Sampling across Scotland and genetic analysis assisted in the further developing the understanding of the genetics of blueberry with a range of blue berry populations being obtained and studied. These were used to further develop genetic linkage maps of this tetraploid blueberry.
Building on the database of Scottish flora the potential bio efficacy of native and exotic Scottish plant species was ranked and analysed for potentially useful bioactives. In addition, an agronomic summary for hop production has been updated to include information gained in 2017 season, including mechanical harvesting information.
- Additional funding has been leveraged to exploit this research for opportunities in plant protein production in Malawi
The work was presented at several KE events including:
- ‘Harvesting for Health’; a two-day event attracting approx. 200 people per day (all age groups) to discuss the importance of plant-based foods.
- ‘Taste the Place’ an art-science collaboration in the Arctic Circle to explore food supply in extreme environments. This event facilitated discussion with a large range of stakeholders (from small biodynamic growers to large-scale processors
- Two public events (pecha kuchu and supper-club; approx. 50 people per event) to discuss important food-related topics.
- Tech Fest - Good Crop Bad Crop Nutrition Foundation/WWF/Nourish Scotland 'Veg Summit' event
- Scottish Futures Group
Research outputs were discussed at “Advances in legume science & practice” AAB conference – resulting in a publication “Advances in Legume Science and Practice’
SEFARI Scientists were instrumental in organising the International Conference for Natural Product Biotechnology which was attended by an international mix of academia and industry focussed on sustainable natural products. At the conference, attendance ~130-140, many SEFARI scientists presented the outputs of the Scottish government-funded research across a wide field of crops for sustainable solutions to nutrition, food functionality and ingredients and chemical feedstocks.
Trials of alternative protein crops including lupins and beans were established to assess both intercropping and cover crop potential. Hop trials were also established. The effect of seed rhizobial and fungal inoculants on yields of winter and spring beans was assessed. Best-agronomic approaches to cultivate hops were noted and communicated to potential growers and an agronomy guide was developed. Industry-associated field trials were completed to identify optimised agronomy for faba bean and pea.
Products with potential utility in feed stocks, drinks and products for human consumption were developed. For example, samples of three hop varieties harvested in October were released to end-users. In addition, several high protein crops were analysed for their macronutrient (protein, fibre and fat), micronutrient and non-nutrient phytochemicals, helping to inform future usage of these crops. In chicken growth trials it was found that soya can be replaced with lupins or beans for feeding to broiler chickens, underpinned by their impact on nutrient digestibility and gut microbiology. Bean, lupin and quinoa extracts showed good in vitro activity against the pathogens Clostridium perfringens and Campylobacter. Novel intercrop silages were also prepared and analysed for nutritional value.
Work on developing blueberry commenced by developing understanding of the structure of blueberry genetic code through bioinformatic analysis and the construction of a genetic linkage map. This will be an important resource for blueberry breeding.
Data was collated on the health benefits and production traits of 1110 Scottish flora. 600 species of which are associated with potential human health benefits. This data and other sources, (e.g. EU projects DISCO - , BachBERRY has expanded the list of target species for future exploitation.
- Whole rotation analysis of cropping systems throughout Europe established that biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) by legumes has the potential to reduce or dispense with the need for mineral N without loss of total output. This cropping strategy could have a large and positive impact upon food security and carbon offset targets.
Knowledge exchange events included:
- Art Meat Flesh (live theatre show to audience of 170,),
- Nourish Scotland/Food Foundation/WWF 'peas please' launch
- Scottish Metabolomics Society meeting in Inverness
- Award from Perthshire Chamber of Commerce for ‘Innovation In Business’ , on use of pulses – intercropping, also brewing and distilling
Research approaches were successfully applied to lever significant funding from the European Union Research and Innovation Actions with three proposals receiving funding, and a total (gross) value of €16 million via the projects www.true-project.eu, www.plant-teams.eu and www.tomres.eu, with over 10% of the amount being realised in Scotland. All the projects run from 2017-21 and have a central focus on legumes and the development of more-sustainable use of nutrients which are essential for good crop production.
Further field trials on potential novel and high starch and protein crops will be undertaken using knowledge gained in previous years. Work will focus on species and species combinations with the greatest potential for practical development. A hop demonstration facility will be established to demonstrate hop agronomy. To assist in the success of novel cropping, legumes or miscanthus and rhizobia will be paired to assess optimal pairing combinations. Environmental impacts on the establishment and rooting behaviour of legumes will investigated. Further information on the effects of the environmental will be gained from blueberry trials and linked to the genetic information already established. Products from trials will be analysed for protein extractability and utility and nutrient content. Production of product examples using alternative protein sources obtained from novel crops will be used in further trials to assess effects on human health and on chicken production. Underutilised protein and novel bioactives from Scottish flora sources will be identified and assessed for utility in products including the food and beverage sector.
Blood-brain barrier transport and neuroprotective potential of blackberry-digested polyphenols: an in vitro study.