Major grant for healthy oats project

A field at IBERS where oats are grown for research purposes

A field at IBERS where oats are grown for research purposes

17 February 2021

A research project to promote the development of oats as a healthy food product and a climate-resistant crop in Wales and Ireland has been awarded a major European grant.

The ‘Healthy Oats’ project will benefit from a €2.18 million from the European Regional Development Fund as part of the Ireland-Wales Cooperation Programme through the Welsh and Irish Governments.

Led by University College Dublin, the project brings together scientists from Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), Swansea University and Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority Teagasc. 

Research at IBERS in Aberystwyth has already led to the development of improved varieties of oat which can help reduce heart disease by lowering cholesterol levels.

Varieties of oats bred at Aberystwyth University include the millers preferred variety, Mascani, which comprises over 80% of the winter oat market in the United Kingdom.

The higher protein and oil content of oats mean that they have very high nutritional value and are a useful replacement for imported soya.

Food manufacturers are rapidly expanding their ranges of oat products from the traditional porridge and oatcakes to cereal bars, breads and drinks.

With demand for oats increasing as consumers look for healthier foods and plant-based alternatives, this latest 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 both countries.

Lesley Griffiths, the Welsh Government Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, said: “I am very pleased to see that the ‘Healthy Oats’ project has been supported via the Ireland-Wales Cooperation Programme.

“Continued co-operation between universities in Ireland and Wales marks not only our continued commitment to encourage such collaborative research relationships, but also to promote all-important innovation and co-operation within our food sector. Initiatives such as these are vital to our economy and we are pleased to continue to support them.

“All those involved with the project should be congratulated for their success, and we look forward to promoting the success of similar schemes.”

The Irish Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Michael McGrath, T.D. said:I would like to congratulate all those involved in the Healthy Oats project in their successful application for funding to support their valuable research. This project marks another successful cooperation between Irish and Welsh institutions supported by the EU maritime cross-border Ireland Wales programme.

“This grant will support the development of innovative options for using oats, which are a healthy, climate-resistant and locally-grown food source in University College Dublin, Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS), Swansea University and Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority Teagasc.

“Joint participation by institutions in Ireland and Wales in EU programmes has been a positive force for deepening the close relationships between us, and promoting ongoing and increased engagement across the Irish Sea. I wish this project every success and look forward to continued development of similar cooperation projects”.

Professor John Doonan, who is leading the research within IBERS, said: “This EU funded grant will allow us to build on the extensive research already carried out at IBERS. Oats grow very well in Wales and Ireland and new products will provide the opportunity to increase both production and add value to a traditional crop.  We will be working with colleagues on both sides of the Irish Sea to increase awareness and understanding of the potential of this crop.”  

Dr Catherine Howarth, head of oat breeding at Aberystwyth University, added “In addition to examining modern oat varieties, this project will explore the climate adaptability and grain composition of heritage varieties of oats from across Wales and Ireland. To increase the resilience and value of cropping systems to rural communities, we need to improve agrobiodiversity.”

Professor Fiona Doohan, from University College Dublin which is leading the project, said: “Oats are culturally and historically a very important part of both Irish and Welsh Agriculture and there is renewed awareness of their health benefits and the potential of farm to fork strategies to deliver innovative, healthy and nutritionally enhanced oat products. This EU-funded project is very timely as it will build on Irish and Welsh oat research to help industries in these regions to capitalise on the growing demand for sustainably produced oat products.”

Dr. Ewen Mullins, Head of Crops Research at Teagasc, said: “Projects such as Healthy Oats provide a key research platform from which to address the needs of stakeholders in the sector. Healthy Oats, in combination with on-going projects, will deliver research-led solutions to current and future challenges. This will support the expansion of the oats market, bringing added value to producers and all actors in the value chain.”

A digital platform will be built as part of the project for sharing information and knowledge with industry and other stakeholders.

AberInnovation, based alongside IBERS on Aberystwyth University’s Gogerddan campus, will also be engaging with businesses and providing infrastructure to support commercial engagement.