Wednesday, December 6, 2023

FAR testing future food crops

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Durum wheat and sunflowers are likely to become a common site on the Canterbury Plains.
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The two crops are part of food products for the future industry-funded projects looking at novel crops on a national scale.

Foundation for Arable Research general manger Ivan Lawrie said a key driver of the arable industry’s seed research is the fledgling Seed Industry Research Centre.

The centre supports education and training at all levels ranging from seed technology courses to scholarships for university students doing seed research.

The centre is about succession planning for the sector, Lawrie said.

In 2018 the centre funded two postgraduate scholarships and is looking at the same this year.

And it has taken on post-doctoral seed researcher Nick Davies to focus on future seed production in a changing environment.

Scholarship student Joe Faulkner will be on contract to FAR this season to help in new research projects.

“In this way SIRC is meeting the challenge that was set out two years ago with its mission to support the New Zealand seed industry through the provision of world class research.”

Lawrie said FAR is involved in two Ministry for Primary Industries Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) projects looking at new or alternative crops to provide more diversity and resilience for arable and mixed arable rotations.

One of the programmes, alternative crops for Wairarapa, aims to expand the limited crop options in the area, an issue highlighted when pea growing was banned because of the pea weevil incursion in 2016.

The second programme is food products for the future where opportunities like the development of a high oleic sunflower industry exist.

“Of the crops we are looking at some are not new but recent trends around eating local and artisan cooking open doors for them to make a comeback,” Lawrie said.

Such is the case for amber durum or pasta wheat, used mostly for coarser grind semolina. It is a basic ingredient for high-quality dried pasta and couscous.

A one-hectare block has been tested using the NZ cultivar Farina with the harvested crop, processed through a stone mill in Canterbury, producing a whole durum wheat flour sample proving to be excellent quality with appealing colour and characteristics for artisan baking and potentially fresh pasta.

“It’s early stages yet. We are still developing the product and market for the product but it’s showing some good promise.

“From historical data there’s not been much progress in terms of varieties in the past two decades so there’s work to be done on that but we know from growing it in the past, especially in South Canterbury, we can get good yields up to nine tonnes to the hectare.” 

Lawrie said FAR will work with bakers and the food industry to do some product testing while simultaneously working with the agronomy of the crop to ensure yield and quality can make it competitive.

FAR will have some durum plots at its annual Arable Research in Action field day at Chertsey on December 4.

Sunflowers are also colouring the industry with optimism with specially-bred varieties with seeds that produce high oleic oil, a high-grade cooking oil sought by commercial food manufactures, being trialled in Canterbury.

“This is another exciting development with expectation at this stage that this will be a new arable crop and food product for the region.”

The high oleic sunflower oil is at the high-value end of the cooking oil market rather than competing with the big volume commodity oils. 

It is also deemed a more healthy option than standard sunflower oil.

Imported sunflower hybrid cultivars have been trialled to gauge crop yields and oil potential over the past two seasons with 150 hectares harvested in April this year.

Planting is expected to double this season for the 2020 April harvest.  

The Canterbury production is being driven by Pure Oil NZ at Rolleston with a clear market for an end niche product both domestic and for export, Lawrie said. 

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