Plant breeders at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) in Wales are confirming a growing demand for oats.

In turn, this is encouraging the development of new oat varieties, to meet a number of discrete and well defined needs.

IBERS is a department of Aberystwyth University. It is a renowned centre of plant breeding research. At a recent webinar, IBERS research scientist Catherine Howarth confirmed that it can take up to 12 years to develop a new oat variety.

“This is the time required to initiate the initial crossing, involving individual plant germplasm material through to the commercial availability of a new variety.

“This means that we have to think at least 10 years ahead at the very outset.

“Factors that have to be taken into consideration when it comes to determining the characteristics of a new variety include, changing government legislation, changing environmental standards and trying to second guess what consumers will want a decade or so down the line.

Oats as biofuel

According to Howarth, oats are the original biofuel.

“They were fed to horses in vast quantities prior to the development of the internal combustion engine," she said.

“Today, however, the demand for oats is being driven by the cereal’s versatility from both an animal and human nutritional perspective.

“Oats can act to reduce cholesterol levels. In turn, this has led to their inclusion in a significant number of health foods.

A growing number of oat milks and alcoholic drinks, derived from oats, have also been developed.

Animal nutrition

From the point of view of animal nutrition, Howarth confirmed oats’ ability to lower methane emission levels when fed to ruminant livestock.

The IBERS representative continued:

 “Oats are a straightforward cereal to grow. Available in both winter and spring varieties; they are a low input, low management crop.

Oats are also very suited to organic production systems.

IBERS research focuses on developing new approaches to plant breeding while also developing novel technologies for genotyping and phenotyping.

Howarth continued:

“We strive to identify the genetic basis of the various traits and the effect of management and the environment to underpin our crop improvement programmes.”

IBERS’ scientists are committed to pursuing state-of-the art technologies in helping them achieve their aims.

One outworking of this approach may well be a considerable shortening of the time required to bring a new plant variety to market.   

“But we are also looking back in time as well," Howarth added.

“By including genetic material from historic oat and other plant varieties, we will be able to widen the number of traits that we can actually choose from.

“This approach brings with it, the hope of developing new plant varieties that can meet the challenge of delivering sustainable food production systems into the future,” she concluded.