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  • Periodic Report Summary 2 - HEALTHYMINORCEREALS (An integrated approach to diversify the genetic base, improve stress resistance, agronomic management and nutritional/processing quality of minor cereal crops for human nutrition in Europe)


Project ID: 613609
Funded under: FP7-KBBE
Country: Czech Republic

Periodic Report Summary 2 - HEALTHYMINORCEREALS (An integrated approach to diversify the genetic base, improve stress resistance, agronomic management and nutritional/processing quality of minor cereal crops for human nutrition in Europe)

Project Context and Objectives:
The productivity of European and global agriculture has been vastly improved through focussing on a relatively small number of crop species. Cereals grown in Europe such as common wheat and barley have been mainly bred for high yields, and are dependent on large inputs of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and energy. However, this strategy has left agriculture with a reduced genetic variation and diversity which makes crops more vulnerable to environmental pressures such as drought and crop diseases, while the high inputs of fertilizers, pesticides and energy required by modern crop varieties lead to environmental damage and energy dependence.
The other cereal species, including rye, oat, spelt, einkorn and emmer were important in the early development of agriculture. Many of them were widely grown by the WWII. However, they are no longer widely grown in Europe and are now classified as “minor cereals” due to small areas of cultivation. Many minor cereal varieties retain characteristics that have been lost, to a large extent in modern, major cereals. They are often more resistance to crop disease and are less dependent on fertilizer and pesticides.
There is a renewed interest in these minor crop species to increase the diversity, sustainability and resilience of cereal production. They are also increasingly popular as nutritious alternatives to major cereals. However, minor cereals have not received the same attention as the major cereals in modern agricultural and food research. There are typically only a few varieties of each species available for cultivation in each country and the best farming conditions are not always properly investigated. Many historic minor cereal varieties, conserved in seed banks, have hardly been studied. These could provide useful genetic material for breeding better minor cereal crop varieties.
HealthyMinorCereals is an international research project, funded by the EU 7th Framework Programme, aiming to enhance the cultivation and consumption of minor cereals in Europe through the application of modern research methods. The project involves 16 partners: universities, agricultural research institutes and SMEs involved in crop breeding, farming and food production, located in ten countries (Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey, and the UK).

The HealthyMinorCereals partners are working together for five years towards the following objectives:
• Analyse the genetic and physical characteristics of varieties of each minor cereal species and their wild relatives that have been conserved in European genebanks
• Identify minor cereal varieties with promising genetic characteristics for yield, resistance to important fungal diseases, more efficient use of fertilizers, nutritional quality, suitability for food processing and other beneficial traits
• Apply new breeding strategies to generate new minor cereal varieties
• Optimise cultivation conditions of minor cereal varieties in four European countries with different climates and soils, with a focus on organic fertilisation and advanced agronomic management tools
• Investigate the genetic diversity of minor cereals grains for micronutrient and antioxidant content, and for any potential harmful/anti-nutritive components in minor cereals, and analyse possible beneficial effects of minor cereal grains on human health in laboratory studies
• Develop know-how in milling and other food preparation methods suitable for minor cereals for improving quality, consumer acceptance, processability and stability
• Understand how new products based on minor cereals can be best introduced to the market, taking into account regional differences within Europe with a programme of case studies
• Demonstrate project results through farmer-participatory field trials and production and quality evaluation of new food products using minor cereals

Project Results:
Genetic characterisation of minor cereals
Genetic characterisation of oat, rye, spelt and wheat wild relatives has been completed for 262 oat genotypes from 26 countries, 218 rye genotypes from 13 countries, and 265 spelt genotypes from 14 countries. For the characterisation of wheat wild relatives, seeds of 190 accessions (incl. Aegilops sp., Triticum araraticum, T. dicoccoides, T. boeticum, T. dicoccum, T. monococcum) were provided by CRI, of which 39 accessions were selected to perform analysis of interspecific genetic diversity. The results of the genetic distances between spelt accessions were further used to select accessions in which disease resistance and quality traits will be assessed.
Phenotypic characterisation of minor cereals in field trials
A core diversity panel of spelt wheat (80 accessions) was phenotyped in Austria, Estonia, Germany and Switzerland, and 112 accessions of oats were phenotyped in the Czech Republic and Estonia, in 2015 and 2016. The rye collection was partly phenotyped in Estonia. Accessions with low amounts of seeds were multiplied again in 2016 in Estonia. Various crosses in all cereals were carried out. Crosses carried out at BOKU involved other hulled wheat species (Triticum macha, T. dicoccum). The first statistical analyses were completed for phenotypic data of spelt wheat and oats from 2014 and 2015 trials.
Resistance to diseases and drought
Resistance to diseases was evaluated in field trials in the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria and Estonia - rusts (spelt and oats) and common bunt (spelt) in 2015 and 2016, Fusarium head blight (FHB, spelt) and Microdochium nivale (rye) in 2016. The first results have shown a great susceptibility of most of the tested spelt varieties to stem rust, whilst some spelt varieties shown resistance and others susceptibility to FHB, and several of the tested oat varieties showed a good resistance to crown rust. Four spelt varieties have been tested in Crete since 2015 for drought resistance in trials with two irrigation regimes (with and without irrigation) and different fertiliser types and levels.
Effect of agronomic management practices on the performance of minor cereals
Field trials to evaluate the effects of agronomic practices on the performance of four varieties of each spelt, rye and oat have been carried out in 2015 and 2016 in the UK (spelt and rye), Czech Republic (spelt and oat) and Estonia (rye and oat. There was a problem with winter kill of part of the rye trial at ETKI in the 2014-15 season. Field trials to evaluate the effects of tillage and weed control practices were established at CRI (spelt and oat) and UNEW (spelt and rye) in 2015, but the trial with autumn-sown spelt at CRI was severely damaged by rooks. It will be repeated in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons.
The oat trial was not affected as it was spring-sown. Field trials with variety mixtures and intercropping were established in autumn 2015 and spring 2016, harvest completed and analyses are ongoing.
Improved food processing of minor cereal grains
Peelability tests of hulled species, flour milling experiments and laboratory scale baking assays and rheological assessments were performed in Germany by ILU. The results will be used to propose well-balanced flour mixtures and new recipes to improve baking quality of final products.
Nutritional analysis
To date, 54 rye, 200 oat, 200 Austrian spelt, 100 Turkish spelt, 64 wild wheat genotypes and 12 common wheat genotypes (for comparison) have been analysed by Sabanci University for nutritional compounds. They have also started experiments investigating the biological activities of seed extracts in cell assays.
Market potential of minor cereals
The market potential report has been finalised by FiBL and published on the project website. Case studies of minor cereals market development in Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Switzerland have been completed during 2016 with interesting conclusions, and a report is currently in preparation.
HealthyMinorCereals publicity
Project activities and results are published at the project website, including a short film about the work at CRI. First results have been presented at conferences, a large number of field days and exhibition for farmers, crop breeders and the food industry, and popular articles about the project were published.

Potential Impact:
Our results at the end of the project will provide a comprehensive description of the minor cereals available in European seed banks, identifying genotypes with interesting nutritional value, yield characteristics and disease and drought resistance. It will define how best to adapt food production methods for minor cereals and give us a better understanding of how to improve the market potential. We expect HealthyMinorCereals to have a major impact on the cultivation and consumption of minor cereals in Europe. In this way, the project aims to respond to global environmental change, as well as consumers’ increasing demands for healthy, nutritious, innovative and sustainably produced food.

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