A major European grant has been awarded to partners in Ireland and Wales, including Swansea University, to research the development of oats as a climate-resistant crop and a healthy food product.
The ‘Healthy Oats’ project will benefit from a €2million grant as part of the Ireland-Wales INTERREG scheme funded through the Welsh and Irish governments.
Demand for oats is increasing as consumers look for healthier foods and vegetarian alternatives. Food manufacturers are constantly evolving their ranges of oat products from the traditional porridge and oatcakes to cereal bars, breads and drinks.
The project will look at developing new climate-resistant varieties as well as innovative products and procedures with industrial partners.
Researchers will also work with agricultural communities and stakeholders to promote the health, economic and environmental benefits of growing oats – a crop which is ideally suited to the climate of Wales and Ireland.
The project brings together scientists from University College Dublin as lead organisation and Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority Teagasc with Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), and Swansea University.
Healthy Oats is an Ireland Wales Co-operation Programme 2014-2020 under European Territorial Co-operation (ETC) programmes. It will strengthen territorial innovation in oat product development, bringing together unique expertise in both Ireland (UCD and Teagasc) and Wales (Aberystwyth and Swansea Universities) on germplasm selection, oat genotyping, consumer behaviour and oat product development.
The project will focus on increasing the intensity of knowledge transfer collaborations involving research organisations and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
Welsh expertise in germplasm evaluation complements UCD expertise in disease screening, and together they will select the most promising genotypes in terms of field performance. Importantly, their selection will be informed by complementary Welsh and Irish industry needs, which in turn will be informed by Welsh and Irish consumer and health behavioural studies.
Some varieties of oats contain a higher protein and oil content and have a high nutritional value. In addition, oats are particularly high in beta-glucan, a soluble dietary fibre that is strongly linked to improving blood cholesterol levels and boosting heart health.
Dr Richard Bracken, from the School of Sports and Exercise Science at Swansea University, will contribute to the project by exploring the cardio-metabolic benefits of improved varieties of oat which might help reduce the occurrence of heart disease.
Dr Richard Bracken said: ‘In recognition of the growing incidence of obesity and diabetes in today’s Westernised society, ‘Healthy Oats’ is an ambitious Ireland-Wales project that seeks to improve the knowledge of beneficial properties of oats on human metabolism.
By drawing on experts across both sides of the Irish sea we aim to demonstrate a successful ‘farm to fork’ project that seeks to develop new consumer food choices that are healthier’.