Optimising oat yield and quality to deliver sustainable production and economic impact (Opti-Oat)

Lead Research Organisation: National Inst of Agricultural Botany
Department Name: Genetics and Breeding

Abstract

The demand for high quality oats for food use has risen by over 23% since 2008 and is projected to increase further with forecast growth of 5% p.a in the breakfast and healthy snack foods category. However, the percentage of home-grown oats has declined, primarily because returns on alternative break crops are higher. In large part this is because there is a significant yield gap of 3.6t/ha between average and the highest yields, indicating most growers do not have the appropriate agronomic information and guides to achieve optimal yields and quality to maximise returns. This project will provide UK oat producers with world-leading agronomic 'tools' to maximise grower returns and capitalise on the increasing demand for food grade oats. The ability to accurately phenotype crops during the season in field, and to link this with variation in final yield and quality in order to improve performance, has been a long term goal of the agricultural industry. The technology around Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), including the hardware software for image acquisition and processing, is rapidly emerging as a cost-effective platform for measuring in-field and genetic variation, yet commonly few users go beyond this step. In the context of the proposed work, this technology has the potential to transform oat crop production and provide a template that can be applied to other crops. A new multi-spectral camera system, developed by URSULA Agriculture and Aberystwyth University, delivers unparalleled resolution, coverage and optical clarity within a small UAS payload and will underpin this project. This project will build on these advances to develop bespoke software (image processing routines and object-based classification algorithms) specific to oats, which are necessary to translate the UAS imagery into meaningful crop data on growth and development. Critically, these algorithms will be calibrated against comprehensive measurements made on the ground. These innovative approaches, combined with novel high-throughput assessment of grain quality, will be applied to data from the monitoring of oat crop growth, development, yield formation and grain quality on small plots and commercially-grown fields of selected modern varieties spanning a wide range of environments and management systems. This unique dataset will allow the dissection of variety x environment x management interactions by using factorial regression models originally developed for barley. It will provide the background data for development of a process-based Oat Crop Model and lay the foundation for model-driven management decision support tools. Finally, this multi-year dataset will be mined to explain differential varietal sensitivities to explicit environmental and/or physiological variables associated with the trials to allow the construction of an Oat Growth Guide, similar to the widely adopted Wheat and Barley Growth Guides (HGCA, 2008 & 2005). This will give appropriate detail and an in-depth knowledge to the whole oat growth process and identify critical crop management points to maximise yield, quality and sustainability. Focused dissemination of these innovative tools will increase average yields by at least 1 t/ha, contribute to sustainable intensification, reduce supply risk for millers, reduce imports, catalyse food product innovation and stimulate milled product export.

Technical Summary

This project will provide UK oat producers with world leading agronomic 'tools' to maximise grower returns and capitalise on the increasing demand for food grade oats. The objectives are 1) Develop, integrate and validate algorithms for translating visual / spectral sensor data from Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) into quantifiable crop parameters to enable growers to optimise management for yield and quality across fields; 2) develop an Oat Crop Model and associated decision support tools; 3) develop an Oat Growth Guide which will provide a reference to assess crops status against key development bench-marks. Focused dissemination of these innovative tools will increase average yields by at least 1t/ha, contribute to sustainable intensification, reduce supply risk for millers, reduce imports, catalyse product innovation and stimulate milled product export.

Planned Impact

The major beneficiaries of this research will be:

Commercial partners: URSULA Ag will benefit from a unique oat UAS platform that can be leveraged globally with PepsiCo
growers. The development and testing of new hardware and software in this project will increase and improve products
offered by URSULA Ag to the UK ag sector. PepsiCo through its ownerhsip of the Quaker and Scott's brands is well
positioned to realise the benefits from this project: increased production will provide supply security while improved grain
quality will increase mill performance, reduce waste, and catalyse product innovation, thereby increasing consumer access
to this healthy grain. Furthermore, PepsiCo is a significant exporter of oat-based food products to European, Middle East
and African nations. These markets are expected to increase, boosting export revenue to the UK from home-grown, value-added
oat products. PepsiCo will disseminate all the tools through its grower network.

Consumer: Increasing awareness of the health benefits of oats, due to the beta-glucan content and compositional
characteristics of the grain, is increasing consumer demand for oats and oat-based products. This occurs when the oat
crop is increasingly challenged by competition from other cereals. Developing advanced tools to increase the yield and
quality of oats grown in the UK will increase the financial return of growing oats and will help to ensure that the milling
industry has a greater security of supply. The focus on grain quality and composition will also ensure that new varieties
have the essential characteristics that secure the economic efficiency of oat mills. Focus on grain composition will also
enhance the potential of using oats for different end-uses and drive food product innovation.

Arable sector: The project will deliver a significant economic and environmental benefit to the arable sector. Oats are
recognised as a low input cereal crop that can be grown in arable rotations across the UK. It is an excellent break crop and
therefore has a major role in sustainable arable rotations. Development of tools to enhance yield, increase yield stability
and grain quality, which meet the needs of end-users and the oat value-chains, will improve the economics of growing the
crop and its value to the arable sector. This will ensure that oats remain a competitive crop for arable production and that
the benefit of growing oats in arable rotations is realised, helping to ensure the overall profitability of the farm operation. For
many growers, this will be important to satisfy the the new crop diversification, or 'greening' criteria of the Common
Agricultural Policy (CAP) known as the 'three crop rule." This project will deliver technologies to target inputs to optimal
growth stages and crop status, including variable rate applications, for maximising on-farm yields and resulting in increased
grower returns and reduced environmental impact. Even a conservative uplift in yield of 1t/ha after three years (for the
consortium growers first then, following the exclusivity period, across the estimated 100,000 ha UK food oat production base) will increase grower returns by >£15M/yr at the farm gate (based on 100 kt @ £150/t). Technologies developed will
also be transferable to non-cereal crops and other cereals such as wheat and barley.

Society:
Direct benefit will be gained from ensuring the supply of oats, a nutritious wholegrain food with proven health benefits. Oat
varieties with enhanced yield and quality will improve the economics of growing oats, enhancing cropping diversity and
ensuring that this low input crop remains a part of sustainable arable rotations. Increased profitability of growing oats will
accrue throughout the value chain from the farmer to the consumer. The future sustainability of UK agriculture is dependent
on economic competitiveness, reducing environmental footprint and adapting to climate change.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The growth and development of winter and spring oats have been described in a systematic way, using a format that is accessible and understandable by farmers and agronomists and other farming professionals. The Oat Growth Guide, which our team contributed to, is based on a solid set of scientific research and commercial farm data collected over multiple sites and years within the project. The Oat Growth Model is the first of its kind, as no other oat growth models were available. The data intelligence platform, an important software tool developed in the project with input from our team, is also a first of its kind, specifically designed to take raw field trial data, calculate key derived variables such as yield, and make the data easily available across the project consortium. After a period of exploitation by industry partners, these outputs will be in the public domain.
Exploitation Route This assembled information provides a foundation for making rational decisions on how best to manage oat crops to maximise yield and quality, and improve the efficiency in use of farm inputs to produce safe and nutritious ingredients for breakfast and snack foods.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

 
Description Research results and work on the project has aided PepsiCo (project lead) with their R&D work on oats. Work has helped Environment Systems Ltd develop remote sensing products for agriculture.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic

 
Title Oat growth model 
Description Our team contributed to the development and parameterization of a computer model that can be used to describe and predict the growth and development of the oat crop. This is the first model of its kind for oats. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The model will be incorporated into a decision support tool for the industry lead in the project. 
 
Title Trials data informatics platform 
Description Our team contributed to the development and deployment of a software platform that assimilates, organises calculates and outputs information collected from multi-environment field trials. There are only a few software tools available that have this functionality, and none of them were suitable for our types of data. Therefore we helped create this platform, which can handle large and diverse data types, and keeps data from a number of project teams all on one cloud server, accessible to all project members. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The software tool has enabled project outputs to be accessible post-project for further data mining and other types of legacy analyses. The software has contributed to the product offering of the SME that was contracted to build the platform tool. The industry lead and academic project partners can use the tool for other projects that generate field trials data. 
 
Title Oat growth model 
Description Developed oat growth model based on FAO generic aquacrop model. Work is ongoing using project data to validate model. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Has led to adjunct funding to further develop model. 
 
Title Oat trials database 
Description Database an web-based trials data platform being developed, based around project data being generated. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Project output led to adjunct funding to develop this database and platform software in collaboration with an SME embedded with our organisation. 
 
Description IPPN talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk given to academics and industry members at the International Plant Phenotyping Network workshop held at CIMMYT, Mexico, Dec. 2016. Examples were shown of phenotyping work done in project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description NIAB Open Day - Cambridge 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Demonstration plots of target oat varieties and a poster explained research to visitors, comprised mostly of farmers and professional agronomists, but also researchers and members of public attended.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.niab.com/shop/sites/niab.com.shop/files/civicrm/persist/contribute/files/NIAB%20TAG%20Ca...
 
Description NIABTAB-Sutton Scotney Open Day demonstration plots 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Demonstration plots and poster explaining the project were shown to visitors. Agronomists, scientists, members of public and farmers attended (some of whom participated in the study).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.niab.com/shop/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=2562
 
Description OptiOat video on PepsiCo website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact PepsiCo and project partner Ursula Agriculture, in consultation with other project partners, created a video highlighting the project that was placed on PepsiCo.com, the main website for the international coroporation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.pepsico.com/live/story/innovation-takes-flight-boosting-oat-production-with-eyes-in-the-s...
 
Description Optimising Oat Yield & Quality to Deliver Sustainability & Profitability 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Poster presented by Ana Sanchez (NIAB) at the "COST/European Plant Phenotyping Network (EPPN) H2020 workshop: "Current and future applications of phenotyping for plant breeding" held in Novi Sad, Serbia on 29-30 September 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://eppn2020.plant-phenotyping.eu/Workshop_Novi_Sad_
 
Description Poster presentation at Oats 20:20 Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A poster describing the project was presented, and visitors to the poster engaged in discussion with poster presenters about the project. As project had just started, there were no results or conclusions to present yet.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.oats2020.org/
 
Description Project Stand at Cereals 2017 Farming Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The OptiOat consortium rented space at the Cereals17 Event in Lincolnshire for two days (14-15June) for a small stand. The space allowed researchers to interact with visitors and talk about research findings. There was in informative video, posters, and demonstration visuals. In addition, visitors could earn BASIS points after filling out a questionnaire, based on information presented at the stand. Cereals annually attracts ~25,000 visitors across the ag sector; most are UK-based, but there were a significant number of overseas visitors as well. Over 250 visitors attended the stand. There were many useful, two-way conversations with farmers, our principal target for research outcomes. A few farmers who expressed doubts about oats, were encouraged to try growing them.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.cerealsevent.co.uk/
 
Description Talk given to visitors "Exciting developments in genetics and breeding for the food and drink industry" 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Talk given to visitors from Campden BRI
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description UCam ChemEng Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited lecture given to 2nd year students in Chem Engineering. Talk focussed on use of sensors in agriculture, examples given from project work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017