Friday, December 8, 2023

Future star crops identified

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A handful of grain and legume crops have been identified with exciting potential in New Zealand farming systems.
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Six star crops – soy, hemp, chickpeas, buckwheat, oats and quinoa – could represent real future foods opportunity, a report by the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge research programme Next Generation Systems says.

Could New Zealand’s food future include oat milk and cow’s milk sourced from the same land? That’s not as far-fetched as it sounds, the report said. 

The covid-19 lockdown highlighted NZ’s generally excellent food security.

It also started conversations and sparked interest in buying local products to support NZ businesses and that is where locally grown grains and pulses such as soy, chickpeas and quinoa come in. 

The idea of NZ-grown offerings might be something many Kiwis have never thought about but it is an area that’s being explored by local researchers and growers. 

There’s real potential here for farmers according to the Specialty Grains and Pulses Report.

Researchers looked at the opportunities presented by new and different plant crops in the grain and pulses families.

From a list of 22 possibilities the research team narrowed its focus to the six star crops it believes have the most potential for Kiwi farmers. 

Not only can those healthy crops be grown here, they and other speciality crops have real potential as both raw ingredients and higher-value food ingredients and products. 

They also represent opportunities for farmers to create more value and diversity from their land, researchers found. 

Canterbury Plains cropping farmer Earl Worsfold, whose family grows 200 hectares of cereal crops on its 400-hectare property near Darfield, backed the potential in growing specialty grains and pulses. 

While he hasn’t yet put his toe in the water with those crops he is keen to look at them. 

“We’re always looking at different options. 

“We could quite easily replace wheat with oats or one of these other grains because we’re growing in a pretty diverse rotation. 

“We could easily drop a paddock of wheat out and put a paddock of quinoa in,” Worsfold said. 

The research team, led by Susan Goodfellow at Leftfield Innovation, started by inviting farmers to a workshop to identify their needs.

The farmers wanted help identifying sustainable land use options that tick three boxes – they have to fit in their existing farm systems, have potential to scale and have a validated market. 

Building on earlier research by Leftfield the specialty grains and pulses were identified as an opportunity with potential to meet those requirements.

The researchers gathered information on a wide range of crops and considered consumer and manufacturer demand for foods and ingredients that are sustainably grown in NZ.

The six crops identified as having the highest potential are all foods for which there is strong demand from both consumers and manufacturers.

The crops also have existing capability or strong potential for developing into food products. 

They all have minimal environmental impacts and in some cases environmental benefits. 

The way the crops fit into future farms could be as part of sustainable, mixed farming systems that also include some animals, Goodfellow said. 

“In a way it’s harking back to the old days where farms had a mix of plants and animals.

“It’s not about plants versus animals. It’s bringing plants into animal-based systems.” 

Worsfold, a member of Leftfield’s Future Grains Growers Group, cited buckwheat as an example of a crop that could fit into a mixed system well, being planted in November and harvested in March or April. 

“It could fit following a ryegrass seed crop where you’ve had the grass for grazing stock all winter and then you take it out in November and put it into buckwheat, take that through to April and you could put it into wheat. 

“That’s where those sorts of crops could fit in quite neatly.” 

While the crops look promising it will be important to further research the demand for them. 

“There’s definitely potential there but only if it’s consumer-driven. 

“At the end of the day if the consumer doesn’t want to eat buckwheat or quinoa there’s no point in growing it,” Worsfold said. 

Since the report was released Leftfield Innovation has been working on next steps with its growers including a buckwheat trial in Canterbury for the Japanese market, trials with GE-free soybeans and trials and attribute testing of chickpeas. 

A similar project to identify opportunities for farmers in Wairarapa is starting this year. 

The goal is to expand the diversity of crops among the Leftfield grower group on the way to an ultimate vision of 100,000ha of sustainable land use opportunities all over the country.

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