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Novel Crops

Work Package Crop and grassland production and disease control

Research Deliverable 
Novel crops


Climate change and pollution due to leaching of nitrogen and phosphorous are driving policies to reduce the levels of inorganic nitrogen and phosphorous used in farming systems. The potential solutions are also encouraging the re-diversification of farming- and food-systems. However, for farms to be sustainable while utilising alternative crops and cropping approaches, it is often the case that the crops and processes need to be adapted for the Scottish soils and climate and with respect to socio-economic issues and constraints. In addition, farmers need to be confident that there is processing capacities in place, and thus markets for these crops. It is therefore necessary to support and develop knowledge of new potential crops, establish cropping systems suitable for the Scotland and new processing streams to accommodate existing or new markets for those crops. The benefits will include a more diverse, and resilient integrated supply chain for plant protein, and new commercial routes for carbohydrates from the same protein crops too. In addition, Scottish fruit including floral crops such as hops need to be empowered by more effective agronomy and marketing e.g. agronomic guidance.

Aim of Research

Novel Crops: To address opportunities for producing alternative protein and carbohydrate crops in Scottish agriculture for fish and crustacean feed, bioenergy, bio-refining, animal feed and human consumption, and to develop design criteria for integrating suitable alternative legume and non-legume crops as sole and intercrops within rotations whilst also accounting for agronomic and ecosystem services.

There are two main areas of research:

  1. Nitrogen use efficiency, novel high protein crops and the multiple benefits that arise from innovatively managed cropped systems, and especially legume (i.e. biological nitrogen fixation) supported cropping for more sustainable food, feed and energy production, including novel food and feed formulations. Additionally, this work aims to improve production efficiency of biomass crops (e.g the grass Miscanthus) particularly for marginal land by identifying combinations of Miscanthus and associated plant growth promoting rhizobacteria best suited for these cropping situations.
  2. Novel fruit, floral and flora-based crops and associated novel cropping strategies, with the aim of strengthening the Scottish economy via sustainable use of underutilised natural resources. These include the identification of the best agronomic practices for under-cover production of dwarf hop varieties to help support the development of the rapidly expanding craft micro-brewery businesses in Scotland and establishment of a collection of wild Scottish low bush berry populations to characterise genetic types and identify best-fit for purpose populations and practices to underpin their commercial development. Finally, the work aims to identify several native Scottish plant species and their bioactives (extracted chemicals that affect biological processes) which show a high potential to improve health and which are also suitable for large scale in-field commercial production.


2020 / 2021
2020 / 2021

Year 5 research in RD 2.1.8 was adapted due to COVID-19 restrictions.  For example, it was not possible to recruit volunteers for food trials and field sampling was disrupted.  More efficient protocols for the analysis of hyperspectral imaging of blueberries were developed that will increase the efficiency once trials resume.  Data from previous trials of food developed from alternative crops were analysed showing a positive effect of the reformulated food on postprandial glucose.  Several methods were selected to measure key bioactives that may have links to glucose metabolism.  Independent of starter feed form or ration mediation, it was shown that faba beans can safely be included at 15% enabling a reduction in the reliance on soya in nutritionally balanced broiler chicken grower and finisher diets. 

Work on cover crops made mixed progress with some crop failures, and limited access to trial sites for monitoring.  Some specific issues with establishment were identified for further research such as the winter tolerance available within the genetic pool of varieties available.

Analysis on native flora was indicated that certain plant extracts have anti-cancer activity, with all of the plant extracts showing antioxidant activity in models relevant to food preservation and specific extracts have been identified with anti-cancer activity at low dose ranges.  However, use in foods may be limited by colour or flavour conflicts, especially for the most potent extracts.  Based on the native species database developed earlier in this objective a report was produced defining Scottish native plants for novel uses in health, nutrition and food.


This year’s outstanding highlights include the many on-line events delivered by SEFARI scientists.  The information gathered from the high protein grain, forage and cover crops trials has been utilised in a wide range of KE engagement activities, including online events e.g “Arable Scotland”, “A taste of plants”, “Plugging the Protein Gap" , “Novel and minor protein crops in Scotland (ESA 2020)”, aimed at a range of stakeholders including Farmers, British Heart foundation, Scottish HempGroup. Several leaflets and Brochures were developed to promote alternative crops including Apios Americana preliminary results (nutritional facts), a Hemp brochure and merchandise, and SEFARI information booklets on crops and foodFilms highlighting and promoting novel crops and virtual tours of some trial sites were developed.  Scientists  contributed to "Legume intercrops help improve soil quality", via the SEFARI publication "Leading Ideas On Soils" and the SEFARI Sustainability Webinar Series: Mixed cropping and cover crops.  The human study of alternative crop reformulated food was advertised in a short video on Word Diabetes Day. For the British Heart Foundation National Heart Month, food formulation expertise and work for disease prevention was highlighted

Developments were made in novel berry crops with blueberry now entering the industry as a mainstream crop. This was supported by molecular breeding methodologies and the development of an association mapping population. Automation technologies supported grower needs in terms of yield prediction and stress identification. Research to support blueberry breeding for the UK climate was  highlighted at Fruit for the Future and webinars.

2019 / 2020
2019 / 2020

Field trials of miscanthus, high protein grains such as faba bean, cover crops and forage crops have been assessed as sources of novel proteins and biomass crops. In addition to key agronomic indicators, utilisation on-farm for some legume-based intercrops is being considered by making whole crop forage.

To assess new partnerships between plants and plant growth promoting bacteria, key grain legumes types have been trialled in plot-scale field trials to test elite rhizobia on and biomass production in barley trials

A blueberry breeding programme has been established with sensory panels identifying a "unique" blueberry flavour in some of the new crosses, which produced the required commercial yields, thus giving new potential products. Blueberry genetic mapping populations, field trials and farmer sites of blueberry have continued to be monitored for a range of traits throughout the season. A hop tunnel is being maintained for quality analysis while farmer uptake is being encouraged by advising on farmers on growing conditions. 

Further analysis of specific Scottish flora plant extracts has been completed this year.  Scaling of the fractionation methods used for these investigations has begun with positive results. 

Food and products developed from novel crops are being tested in trials, for both animal and human use (including, new legume-based products and products that have potential use in diabetes treatment). Our evidence shows that Scottish grown faba beans can completely replace soya bean meal in nutritionally balanced rations for grower and finisher pigs. Safe use of 15% faba beans for broilers was confirmed to be independent of starter feed form (meal or crumb) and faba bean inclusion.  In addition, initial data on faba bean brewery co-products suggest intake constraints are unlikely to hamper their use as a novel broiler feed ingredient.


The release of a new gin made from peas by Arbikie distillery followed a long running collaboration between the James Hutton Institute and researchers at Abertay University, with the aim of increasing the value of products from diverse and alternative cropping systems. 

Researchers have played an active role in establishment of Scottish Hemp Group (April 2019).  The group’s mission is to support and promote hemp in Scotland for food, feed, energy, biomaterials and as cash-crop promoter of circular green economies and new markets.

Supported by SEFARI Gateway's Responsive Opportunity Fund we have promoted Novel Crops research, creating new KE tools and events engaging with key stakeholders and hosted a networking event to encourage collaboration, to provide an opportunity to share expertise and literally bring the topic to life over lunch (Taste of Plants Project).  

Researchers have been highly active in stakeholder engagement over the last year, presenting and discussing work at a range of events, including industry events (e.g. Arable Scotland, OKNET ECOFEED, ScotGrass, BarleyAwayDays2020, Pigs and Poultry – Optimising Production, SULSA/ScotCHEM: Natural Products in the Bio-economy) and on-farm demonstrations (Nutrient Network Farm , Soil Association led Field Lab on Lismore, FAS event at St Cyrus for the Angus Nutrient Network).

A podcast was produced which summarised the agronomic, environmental and economic challenges associated with current and future barley breeding, cropping and processing, and examined potential solutions to those challenges.

A researcher contributed to a new international exhibition hosted locally by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. The exhibition includes 18 portraits of scientists, farmers and chefs all of whom champion diversity in our food. This exhibition highlighted the importance of this work and led to the visit of the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon to the Rowett Institute to learn more about the contribution of Novel Crops research to diet diversification and balanced nutrition.

Wide media coverage of alternative protein sources to support Scotland’s journey to net zero. This included coverage for example on BBC Radio Scotland Out of Doors, BBC Landward and STV Documentary 'Climate of Change'.

2018 / 2019
2018 / 2019

In order to gain further understanding of the agronomy of novel crops, trials on cereal-legume intercropping, novel legume crops and Miscanthus (energy grass) were conducted. The approaches accommodated crop product sampling, and measures of product qualities with respect to their various end-markets. Such qualities include short time-to-flowering and yield, the latter including yield components such as protein and starch and other nutritional and organoleptic attributes. For example, data was used to produce a mathematic model to simulate grass-clover swards and under-sown crops. This will assist in understanding the development of these crop partnerships.

Rhizobacteria (bacteria within the zone around the roots) important in the efficient and healthy growth of plants associated with Miscanthus and other novel crops, and seeds of wild legume species which are relatives of existing legume crops have been gathered, and their rhizobia (nitrogen fixing bacterial symbionts) have been isolated. These are the subject of further comparative analysis, since such wild material has the potential to inform and develop commercial crop production.

Collaborations on products for both human and animal consumption using novel crops have included gluten free products (i.e. beverage) using by-products of cropping, and high protein functional foods. The latter was developed incorporating a zero-waste approach and in collaboration with commercial partners (both large and small breweries and distilleries) and the University of Abertay Dundee, there has been significant progress in the use of pulses (e.g. faba bean) in the brewing, distilling and protein isolation areas.

Hop production trials and blueberry research have been carried out. Samples of blueberries have been obtained from a range of sites with varied environmental conditions expanding our understanding of this new crop. These new additions to the blueberry collection have been characterised to further our understanding of distribution of blueberry types. This material has provided wider germplasm for the breeding programme, crosses between the collected materials and selections have been generated and areas of the genome linked to yield have been identified by sequencing a UK population. Further models to assist in the understanding of the effects of winter chilling on blackcurrant and blueberry have been developed.

Utilising the knowledge database of Scottish flora, plant types were selected, and a living Scottish Flora species database has been created. A subset of these were analysed for chemical diversity.


2017 / 2018
2017 / 2018

To investigate resource efficiency and productivity in cereal- legume crop mixtures, mixtures of green cover crops and nitrogen-fixing crops crop trials established in 2016 were continued with several new trials added. For example, a Miscanthus trial was established to test the effects of Plant Growth Promoting Rhizobia (PGPRs) on Miscanthus. This is important to understand the agronomy of these crops under the Scottish climate and to supply crops for product development. Such energy grasses can also provide beneficial root bacteria which may be exploited as novel inoculants of cereal crops to improve growth and nitrogen use efficiency.

The direct uses of novel crops and protein sources were investigated in trials assessing the nutritional value of using, for example, faba beans and quinoa as a feed for broiler chickens. Completed investigation of food reformulation (for humans) include enriching high protein crops with phenolics and reducing sugar content. The anti-nutrient content of buck wheat has also been exploited in terms of a potential aid in the treatment of diabetes (type 2), with a buckwheat intervention product being formulated (functional food ingredient).

Two plantations of blueberry were established as a tool to gain data on the establishment and agronomy of this new crop. Sampling across Scotland and genetic analysis assisted in the further developing the understanding of the genetics of blueberry with a range of blue berry populations being obtained and studied. These were used to further develop genetic linkage maps of this tetraploid blueberry.

Building on the database of Scottish flora the potential bio efficacy of native and exotic Scottish plant species was ranked and analysed for potentially useful bioactives. In addition, an agronomic summary for hop production has been updated to include information gained in 2017 season, including mechanical harvesting information.


  • Additional funding has been leveraged to exploit this research for opportunities in plant protein production in Malawi

The work was presented at several KE events including:

  • Harvesting for Health’; a two-day event attracting approx. 200 people per day (all age groups) to discuss the importance of plant-based foods.
  • ‘Taste the Place’ an art-science collaboration in the Arctic Circle to explore food supply in extreme environments. This event facilitated discussion with a large range of stakeholders (from small biodynamic growers to large-scale processors
  • Two public events (pecha kuchu and supper-club; approx. 50 people per event) to discuss important food-related topics.
  • Tech Fest - Good Crop Bad Crop Nutrition Foundation/WWF/Nourish Scotland 'Veg Summit' event
  • Scottish Futures Group


Research outputs were discussed at “Advances in legume science & practice” AAB conference – resulting  in a publication “Advances in Legume Science and Practice

SEFARI Scientists were instrumental in organising the International Conference for Natural Product Biotechnology which was attended by an international mix of academia and industry focussed on sustainable natural products. At the conference, attendance ~130-140, many SEFARI scientists presented the outputs of the Scottish government-funded research across a wide field of crops for sustainable solutions to nutrition, food functionality and ingredients and chemical feedstocks.

2016 / 2017
2016 / 2017

Trials of alternative protein crops including lupins and beans were established to assess both intercropping and cover crop potential. Hop trials were also established. The effect of seed rhizobial and fungal inoculants on yields of winter and spring beans was assessed. Best-agronomic approaches to cultivate hops were noted and communicated to potential growers and an agronomy guide was developed. Industry-associated field trials were completed to identify optimised agronomy for faba bean and pea.


Products with potential utility in feed stocks, drinks and products for human consumption were developed. For example, samples of three hop varieties harvested in October were released to end-users. In addition, several high protein crops were analysed for their macronutrient (protein, fibre and fat), micronutrient and non-nutrient phytochemicals, helping to inform future usage of these crops. In chicken growth trials it was found that soya can be replaced with lupins or beans for feeding to broiler chickens, underpinned by their impact on nutrient digestibility and gut microbiology. Bean, lupin and quinoa extracts showed good in vitro activity against the pathogens Clostridium perfringens and Campylobacter. Novel intercrop silages were also prepared and analysed for nutritional value.


Work on developing blueberry commenced by developing understanding of the structure of blueberry genetic code through bioinformatic analysis and the construction of a genetic linkage map. This will be an important resource for blueberry breeding.


Data was collated on the health benefits and production traits of 1110 Scottish flora. 600 species of which are associated with potential human health benefits. This data and other sources, (e.g. EU projects DISCO - , BachBERRY has expanded the list of target species for future exploitation.



  • Whole rotation analysis of cropping systems throughout Europe established that biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) by legumes has the potential to reduce or dispense with the need for mineral N without loss of total output. This cropping strategy could have a large and positive impact upon food security and carbon offset targets.

Knowledge exchange events included:

Research approaches were successfully applied to lever significant funding from the European Union Research and Innovation Actions with three proposals receiving funding, and a total (gross) value of €16 million via the projects, and, with over 10% of the amount being realised in Scotland. All the projects run from 2017-21 and have a central focus on legumes and the development of more-sustainable use of nutrients which are essential for good crop production.

Key messages on the potential of faba bean and other protein crops to reduce reliance on soya in nutritionally balanced rations, and the legacy effect of the protein crops on soil health and rotational productivity were presented at a series a webinars targeted at growers and agronomists, and supply chain practitioners and national and International scientific conferences. Upper limit of faba bean inclusion for broiler was found to be 15% and 20% for conventional and slower growing breeds, respectively, independent on sub-clinical gut challenge, whilst improving mineral digestibility.

Increased knowledge on the diversity and stability of production/growth of several novel legumes, Vaccinium angustifolium (low-and high-bush berry), Hemp, Hops, Scottish native flora, and cover crops has been achieved, with the establishment of a commercial funded blueberry breeding programme. The effects of these novel crops in the food chain (pigs, broiler chickens, and human consumption), has also been researched, through reformulated products and trial.  Positive impacts have been found for several products.

Cover crop, intercrop & Legume field trials were completed this year.  The activity of buckwheat and composition were evaluated. We engaged with local crop producers to help revalorising food waste and implementing/developing zero-waste food process. Information was collated and published on soybean production and rhizobia in Scotland, and dwarf early maturing faba bean.   Other research insights have been produced for publication in the trade press e.g. on rhizobia for PGRO’s Pulse magazine, and the ‘cover crop practice guide’.  Broiler chicken and human trials recommenced, with the completion of blood sample analysis.  Analysis of hemp macronutrients and micronutrients was completed, along with the evaluation of buckwheat and hemps by-products for potential use as food ingredients.  Owing to rising energy costs (of canning), commercial release of Scottish beans will be delayed until 2023. In the interim, the seed stock will be multiplied from 1 to ca 10t.

Further analysis of field grown novel fruit and crop material was undertaken.  Daffodil bulb chemical composition was evaluated and Galantamine and other related amine levels in field grown bulbs differed between cultivar and location of growth, suggesting a substantial plasticity in accumulation.   Blueberries were evaluated for yield stability along with environmental factors with QTLs identified linked to stability factors.


The research on novel crops focusses on several food crops as sustainable candidates to diversify dietary nutrients in Scotland (protein and fibre) and supporting novel fruit production. Specifically, to understand the nutritional and health potential of crops such as potato, bean, buckwheat and hemp, delivering novel and impacting findings in terms of nutrition efficiency and health potential

MRPs continue to play a key role in the reintroducing hemp as food crop in Scotland and our collaboration with Scottish farmers is pivotal in informing and development of Scottish hemp grown food products. Furthermore, engaging with hemp industry (Good Hemp) through a collaborative PhD studentship ( for the next three years) we are aiming to deliver a zero-waste food hemp production by revalorising hemp by-products for food and functional foods development. 

To harvest the health benefits of the novel crops such as buckwheat, we developed novel functional foods which lead to a patent-pending technology. The Buckfood (new buckwheat food ingredient) beneficially modulates the sugar metabolism in people with type-2-diabetes when tested in a nutritional intervention using human volunteers.  

MRP’ novel crops work contribution to delivering UN Sustainable Development Goals has been mentioned and recognised and the crops' role in food and environment biodiversification and in mitigation of climate change are facts discussed as part of educative events across schools in Scotland.

An MRP has led high-impact research and development with Arbikie Distillery, and Abertay University to realise the world’s first climate positive-gin, and -vodka. This RESAS-SRP funded effort was supported by PhD student, Master Distiller, and Manager of Arbikie Distillery Kirsty Black, and the Research and Innovation Action Collaboration with research-leaders at Bangor University and Trinity College Dublin allowed the publication of key data for Life Cycle Analysis to support the launch of Arbikie’s Nádar products to international acclaim and numerous awards - most recently for ‘outstanding business engagement’. In this model approach, pulses now occupy 20% of the Arbikie Farm area, and demand for peas from other local growers is anticipated. This same research-team also worked with Barney’s Beer Ltd (Edinburgh), to realise a series of faba bean-based beers which, after publication on positive results of taste tests, culminated in CoolBeans® Faba Bean IPA, a gluten free and vegan-friendly beer which was sold by Lidl. While the faba-bean IPA remains to be up- and/or out-scaled, the optimised methodology is published. High protein potalo co-products are utilised to feed cattle in a circular economic approach , the potential of pulse-proteins isolate for aquaculture feed and human food was scoped with HorizonProteins Ltd. In partnership with SRUC, brewed-bean co-product has also been valorised for broiler feed. For further information, please see the explanatory videos by Taskscape Associates Ltd., RD Content Ltd., and Abertay University - which also highlight the role of pulses in addressing ‘wicked’ existential challenges

Future Activities

The work from RESAS 2016-2022 programme evolved in the new SRP 2022-2027 programme:  Climate resilience of hemp will be studied in  B1: RI B1 01 research projects where we study hemp as a climate resilient crop for the future of Scottish agriculture.  Hemp and buckwheat-based food reformulation work will be under taken in B5: RI-B5-03.  Legumes and other novel crops work will be under taken in B1 – 3-  Novels Crops, C2-1 Towards carbon positive.  Cover crop work will be undertaken in B1-5 Crop Improvement for Sustainable Crops (Abiotic Stress) and in the D3:Soils work programme.  Fruit research will be under taken in B1-4-Tools and Technologies, and B1_1 – Protecting Scotland’s crops

Selected Outputs

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