“Some quality parameters are very important as well,” Beuch explains. “Most important is specific weight or hectoli- tre weight which still dominates the oat trade and the monetary value of oats. Additionally, kernel content, hullability and screenings are important traits for oat milling. All these characters are highly heritable and can be influenced positively by choosing the right oat variety.” Westerdijk states Wiersum Plant breeding focusses on breeding varieties with strong agronomic features: high and stable grain yields, good resistance against some important leaf diseases and stiff straw. “Grain quality is getting much atten- tion by selecting for high specific yield, high kernel content and good screen- ings from an early stage onwards,” says Westerdijk. “We recently - in the UK - recommended spring oat variety WPB Elyann as an example of a successful combination of excellent agronomics and unique grain quality, making it very inter- esting for the milling industry.” The concept of Wiersum’s breeding program is to develop many young lines, screen them for yield potential, thus allowing a wide range of selected lines to enter the European network of yield trials. These trials are accommodated by their partners/representatives abroad. By screening for yield and identifying too poor yielding lines only, potentially high yielding lines for different environments are kept on board. “Acting this way, we can identify lines with stable, high overall yields, but also lines that are better equipped for a specific environment,” explains Westerdijk. “Not only the genotype x environment interaction plays a role, the requirements per country can be very different too. There may be a prevalence for white, yellow or black oat, or for high specific weight over yield.” BREEDING TARGETS Beuch explains that despite the lack of investment, new breeding technologies are available to oat breeders. “Molecular markers are available since many years and SNP chips come from public breeders of the Northern American oat breeding,” he says, adding that different European oat breeders will introduce genomic selection in the next few years. “A European oat genome project is willing to clarify the complete oat genome over the next few years. Tissue culture techniques are requested by breeders and scientists, but still take some time before an economic use will be possible in oats too.” In the early generations, before yield testing, the material is selected to EUROPEAN-SEED.COM I EUROPEAN SEED I 61 A field with the Nordsaat oat variety SYMPHONY in Eastern Sweden. SYMPHONY is currently the 2nd biggest oat variety in Europe and is mainly grown in the oat growing regions around the Baltic Sea. Photo Credit: Steffen Beuch OATS SWOT ANALYSIS Despite the dwindling global area of oats, opportunities abound for new markets in the human food and animal feed sectors. This was one of the conclusions of a new report "Oats SWOT Analysis" which is the compilation of over sixty international contributors and was edited and produced by Christopher Green of Oat Innovations. "Contributions came from individuals across the global oat supply chain including breed- ers, agronomists, growers, millers and food companies and this provides a great insight to the status of the crop and its prospects" said Green. "Whilst there is acceptance that the area may continue to decline, the health delivering properties of oats are unique and cannot be directly substituted by other cereals. The oat grain is the most nutritious of all cereals and should be the basis for humanitarian food aid programmes,” added Chris. The loss of tonnage going into animal feeds is the largest contributing factor to the decline in acreage. Set against this is the opportunity to contract grow and produce oats for specific value-added markets and this should translate into new markets for the hulless or naked oat. Added to this, the consumers and food manufacturers envisaged innovative new oat products aimed at the health-conscious market including the diabetic and gluten free sectors. "Threats to oats are there to be mitigated and the opportunities grasped and exploited," concluded Green. Copies of the "Oats SWOT Analysis" are available for free at chris@oatinnovations.com meet requirements on disease resistance (mainly mildew, Septoria and crown rust), straw length and strength, pani- cle morphology and earliness of heading and maturity. Westerdijk says additional screening for grain quality takes place in the winter months before yield screening in order to delete the lines that do not meet minimal requirements. “Since determination of the husk content is a very laborious job, screen- ing is done by using Near Infrared Transmittance (NIT). During the yield testing phase, grain quality is carefully monitored on the harvest products in several countries/locations. Then NIT is not precise enough and husk content is measured by hand.” In terms of their breeding targets, Beuch says Nordsaat‘s oat variety breed- ing is directed to the whole European region between the Atlantic coast and the Ural Mountains. “Consequently, we have a strong eye on a high ecological adaptability as well as yield stability in oat varieties. Due to the comparable high water demand of oats and its spring sown character this trait is not easy to get.” He adds that up until now, it was rec- ognized that the interest of the European oat milling industry in special high ß-Glu- can oat varieties is still underdeveloped. “It means that the return of investment of breeders into special trait oat varieties is not guaranteed. Nevertheless, interest seems to grow. One possible solution could be the introduction of a kind of oat contract breeding which shares the risk of investment between different partners inside the oat supply chain.” PLANT HEALTH Although oats have a high leaf mass and will not suffer badly from leaf diseases, Westerdijk says a lot of attention is paid to leaf health, especially in early generations. Despite the fact the greenhouse is involved to speed up the process, it takes roughly seven years from the first cross to entering a candidate variety in official trials in any country and another three to four years