You are here

Novel Crops

Work Package 2.1 - Crop and grassland production and disease control

Research Deliverable 
2.1.8 Novel crops
Leading Ideas 
Climate and the Environment


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.


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 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.

Future Activities

We will continue with field trials and over the 2020 – 2021 season, with plant growth and physiological measurements continuing.  Furthering investigations of efficacy of the products from these trials in terms of forage, and feed will also continue.  Harvesting processes will improved for the hop demonstration trial.   Further screens of bio-actives will be undertaken.

Selected Outputs

Influence of dietary inclusion of a wet processed faba bean protein isolate on post-smolt Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar).

A whole‐systems approach for assessing measures to improve arable ecosystem sustainability

A Comparative Nitrogen Balance and Productivity Analysis of Legume and Non-legume Supported Cropping Systems: The Potential Role of Biological Nitrogen Fixation.

Nutritional and Phytochemical Content of High-Protein Crops.

Helping shape the future of UK farming

Scottish blueberries

Researchers aim to boost Scottish blueberry production

The composition of potentially bioactive triterpenoid glycosides in red raspberry is influenced by tissue, extraction procedure and genotype

Weeds in Organic Fertility-Building Leys: Aspects of Species Richness and Weed Management.

Polyphenols as New Leads in Drug Discovery: Biological Activity and Mechanisms.

Polyphenols journey through blood-brain barrier towards neuronal protection.

TetraploidSNPMap: Software for Linkage Analysis and QTL Mapping in Autotetraploid Populations Using SNP Dosage Data.

Novel colon-available triterpenoids identified in raspberry fruits exhibit antigenotoxic activities in vitro.

Comparative genetic mapping reveals synteny and collinearity between the American cranberry and diploid blueberry genomes

Legume-based Green Manure Crops

International blueberry project comes to fruition on Tayside

Blueberry breeding consortium launched to discover new European varieties

More blueberries from Scotland

BacHBerry: BACterial Hosts for production of Bioactive phenolics from bERRY fruits.

Blood-brain barrier transport and neuroprotective potential of blackberry-digested polyphenols: an in vitro study.

Evidence for Health Benefits of Berries. In: Annual Plant Reviews

A High-throughput Screen for Biochemical and Bioactivity Diversity in Plants and Crops.

Food: The Vital Ingredient

Phytochemical Composition and Cytotoxic Effects on Liver Hepatocellular Carcinoma Cells of Different Berries Following a Simulated In Vitro Gastrointestinal Digestion

Raspberry Fruit Chemistry in Relation to Fruit Quality and Human Nutrition

Photosynthetic limitation as a factor influencing yield in highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) grown in a northern European environment.

Demographic quantification of carbon and nitrogen dynamics associated with root turnover in white clover

Hops in Scotland

Protein crop options for Scotland with potential for more than one end-use.

Fulfilling domestic demand for protein feed

Growers urged to hop to it and capitalise on crop

Farm diversification for new food products – Cereals and alternative proteins

Scottish hops are a viable commercial crop

Cover crops and how to use them best.

Eco_agri-tech at Knock farm

Nairn's jar opens and gin gets climate positive (paywall)

Worlds first climate positive gin is made from peas

Pea gin promise for dairy feed

Arbikie launches world’s first climate positive gin made from peas

‘Pea Gin' Could Be a Breakthrough for More Environmentally-Friendly Cocktails

A Scottish distillery has created the first ‘climate positive gin’ out of garden peas

Tayside distillery and scientists create world’s first ‘pea gin’

Could pea gin lead a new generation of carbon neutral spirits?

Video for University of Aberdeen Future Strategy Launch featured stakeholder engagement involving research from this RD

Could home-grown mushrooms be the secret to sustainability?

Future food: health and sustainability

Aberdeen scientist’s drink invention ‘could prevent diabetes’

Taste of Plants Project


Deliverables linked to Novel Crops research from H2020 project TRUE



Black, K, Barnett A, Tziboula-Clarke A, White PJ, Iannetta P, Walker G. 2019. Assessing the influence of the inclusion of field bean Vicia faba L. on the taste and overall impression of beer. Journal of Brewing and Distilling 125:310-314.

Brennan M Paterson L Baharudin AAA Stanisz-Migal M Hoebe PN. 2019. The quality of barley husk-caryopsis adhesion is not determined by caryopsis cuticle permeability. Plant Physiology 243:153054

Dello Jacovo E, Valentine TA, Maluk M, Toorop P, Lopez del Egido L, Frachon N, Kenicer G, Park L, Goff M, Ferro VA, Bonomi C, James EK, Iannetta PPM. 2019. Towards a characterisation of the wild legume bitter vetch Lathyrus linifolius L. Reichard Bässler: heteromorphic seed germination, root nodule structure and N-fixing rhizobial symbionts. Plant Biology, 21 (3): 523-532.

Figueira I, Tavares L, Jardim C, Costa I, Terrasso AP, Almeida AF, Govers C, Mes JJ, Gardner R, Becker JD, McDougall GJ, Stewart D, Filipe A, Kim KS, vBrites D, Brito C, Brito MA, Santos CN. 2019.  Blood-brain barrier transport and neuroprotective potential of blackberry-digested polyphenols: an in vitro study.  Eur J Nutr. 58(1):113-130. doi: 10.1007/s00394-017-1576-y.

Florence A, Ennos RA, Hoad SP, Hoebe PN. 2019. Variation in light interception traits in European spring barley landraces. Field Crops Research, Volume 241

Hawes C, Young M, Banks G, Begg G, Christie A, Iannetta P, Karley A, Squire G. 2019. Whole-systems analysis of environmental and economic sustainability in arable cropping systems: a case study. Agronomy 9: 438.

Karavidas I, Ntatsi G.  Ntanasi T, Vlachos I, Tampakaki A, Iannetta P, Savvas D.  2020. Evaluation of different crop rotation schemes for organic common bean production under mild-winter climatic conditions. Acta Horticulturae, In Press.

Ladouceur E, Jiménez-Alfaro B, Bruelheide H, Iannetta P, Tudela Isanta M, Mondoni A, Poschlod,P, Amiaud B, Burrascano S, Cerabolini9,B, Cornelissen JH, Craine J, Klimešová J, Louault F, Minden V, Öllerer K, Onipchenko V, Soudzilovskaia N, Bonomi C. 2019. The functional trait spectrum of European temperate grasslands.  Journal of Vegetation Science, In Press.

Leinonen I, Iannetta P, Rees R, Russell W, Watson C, Barnes A. 2019. Lysine supply is a critical factor in achieving sustainable global protein economy. Frontiers in Plant Science

Leinonen I, Iannetta PPM, MacLeod M, Rees RM, Russell W, Watson C, Barnes AP. 2020. Regional land use efficiency and nutritional quality of protein production. Global Food Security 26:100386.

Lienhardt T, Black K, Saget S, Porto Costa M, Chadwick D, Rees RM, Williams M, Spillane C, Iannetta PM, Walker G, Styles D. 2019. Just the tonic! Legume biorefining for alcohol has the potential to reduce Europe's protein deficit and mitigate climate change. Environment International 130:104870

Lienhardt T, Black K, Saget S, Porto Costa M, Chadwick D, Rees RM, Williams M, Spillane C, Iannetta PM, Walker G, Styles D, 2019. Data for life cycle assessment of legume biorefining for alcohol. Data in Brief, 25.

McCallum, S. 2019. Advances and challenges in blueberry breeding. In: Achieving sustainable cultivation of temperate zone tree fruits and berries (Ed. Prof. Greg Lang)., Chapter 14, pp423-439:

McDougall GJ, Foito A, Dobson G, Austin C, Sungurtas J, Sub S, Wang L, Feng C, Li S, Wang L, Wei W, Allwood JW, Stewart D. 2020. Glutathionyl-S-chlorogenic acid is present in fruit of Vaccinium species, potato tubers and apple juice.  Food Chemistry 330: 127227 -

Newton AC, Guy DC, 2020. Assessing effects of crop history and soil amendments on yields of subsequent crops. Agricultural Science 11: 514-527. -

Newton AC, Guy DC, Hackett CA, 2019. Grain and straw yield in cultivar mixtures. Journal of Agricultural Science 157(2): 117-128

Olukosi, OA, Walker, RL and Houdijk, JGM. 2019. Evaluation of the nutritive value of legume alternatives to soybean meal for broiler chickens. Poultry Science 98: 5778-5788.

Quesada N, Iannetta PPM, White PJ, Tran F, Begg GS. 2019. What evidence exists on the effectiveness of the techniques and management approaches used to improve the productivity of field grown tomatoes under conditions of water- nitrogen- and/or phosphorus-deficit? A Systematic Map Protocol. Environmental Evidence, 8:26,

Squire GR, Quesada N, Begg GS, Iannetta PPM. 2019. Transitions to greater legume inclusion in cropland: defining opportunities and estimating benefits for the nitrogen economy. Food and Energy Security,

Teixeira A, Iannetta, PPM, Binnie,K, Valentine TA, Toorop P. 2020.  Myxospermous seed-mucilage quantity correlates with environmental gradients indicative of water-deficit stress: Plantago species as a model.  Plant and Soil 446: 343-356.

Temesgen D, Maluk M, James E K, Iannetta PPM, Assefa F. 2019. The functional characterisation of soybean Glycine max L. rhizospheric bacteria indigenous to Ethiopian soils. African Journal of Agricultural Research 14: 1659-1673.

Vasconcelos M, Gomes A, Pinto E, Ferreira H, Vieira E, Pimenta A, Santos CS, Balázs B, Kelemen E, Hamann K, Williams M, Iannetta PPM. 2020. The push-, pull- and enabling – capacities necessary for legume grain inclusion into sustainable agri-food systems and healthy diets. World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics, DOI: 10.1159/000507498

Vasconcelos MW, Balázs B, Kelemen E, Squire GR, Iannetta PPM. 2019. Editorial: Transitions to Sustainable Food and Feed Systems. Frontiers in Plant Science Plant Nutrition,