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September 8, 2011: Tackling Hunger With A New Kind of Oat.

Tackling Hunger With A New Kind of Oat.
 By Richard Hinchcliff.

There have been many remarkable  success stories over 125  years of research at the Central  Experimental Farm, from wheat  varieties like Marquis, which  transformed Canadian agriculture,  to new kinds of apples like  Lobo and Melba for Canadian  growers, to the beautiful and  hardy Explorer roses.
Three years ago, Dr. Vern  Burrows registered a very  special variety of “naked oat”  that was both hull-less and  hairless. Dr. Burrows, a  researcher at the Central  Experimental Farm in Ottawa  since 1958, had bred many  varieties of hull-less oats, which  save farmers the expense of de- hulling and sorting, need less  storage space, and reduce  transportation costs.
A remaining problem for  farmers in growing oats was the  hair-like trichomes on the  kernels, which come off during  threshing and make the farmer’s  skin itch like crazy, he says.
After 15 years of breeding  and testing, using genetic  material from South Africa, Dr.  Burrows successfully created a  hull-less variety that was also  hairless, which he named AC  Gehl. (AC is for Agriculture  Canada and Gehl is the name of  a colleague who runs the  experimental station at Indian  Head, Saskatchewan.)
A world-renowned expert on  oat breeding and oat usage, Dr.  Burrows, Research Scientist  Emeritus, Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada, has created 28  varieties of oats.
Not only has his research  helped farmers grow oats, it has  also created new marketing  opportunities; for example, in  gluten-free products. In general,  oats are safe for people who  can’t handle gluten but, as Dr.  Burrows explains, a crop of oats  can become contaminated on a  farm by other grains growing in  nearby fields. He devised a  system of field inspections and  lab tests to ensure that growers  can make pure oats using AC  Gehl.
Grown in Manitoba, the oats  were initially marketed as  Cavena Nuda, or Canadian  Naked Oats. The botanical  name for oats is avena. The  crops did remarkably well  through some very wet seasons,  performing more like rice. This  sparked an idea and Naked Oats  began to be marketed as Rice of  the Prairies, receiving a  favourable reception on the  CBC’s Dragons’ Den television  show.
With a pleasant taste and
texture, Rice of the Prairies has twice the  protein of white rice, 10 times the fibre  and eight times the iron. It is being used in  recipes for all meals of the day.
Burrows tells the story of a visit to  Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada by a  representative of a soup company. The  visitor noticed a container of Rice of the  Prairies and asked for about 50 lbs for  testing. The company was Campbell’s  Soup Canada, which was looking for  ways to be more relevant to people’s  dietary needs.
The testing resulted in a canned soup  that is rich in protein, fibre and minerals,  and Campbell’s invited Burrows to a  tasting. With naked oats at 10% of total  ingredients, he knew it would be nutritious,  and “it tasted pretty good,” he says. But  then came the big surprise – Campbell’s  intended to give the soup away.
This February, Campbell’s announced  that “Nourish” was in production and that  100,000 cans would be donated to  Canadian food banks. It is “a meal in a  can,” with a pop-top lid, no water to be  added, and eaten hot or cold. At the  launch, Burrows learned that after the  100,000 cans were distributed, Nourish  would be sold in stores, with profits going  to food banks and hunger-relief initiatives  around the world. The Haiti disaster zone,  adds Burrows, is an excellent example of  where this meal in a can could be used.
“Research has been helping farmers  develop, grow and protect crops, and the  naked oat is an excellent example of how  this research is growing new market  opportunities,” says Agriculture and Agri- Food Canada Minister Gerry Ritz. “We  are delighted that our innovative variety is  part of Campbell’s new product.”
The President of Campbell’s Soup  Canada told Burrows that there wouldn’t  have been enough protein and dietary  fibre with wheat, rice or other grains. “I’m  thrilled to hear them say that they couldn’t  have done it without the oats,” says Burrows.
Much has happened in the three years  since Burrows registered his new naked  oat variety. He knows that 12 tons of  Rice of the Prairies has been shipped to a  U.S. company for further experiments.  Bred in Ottawa, grown in Manitoba,  feeding the hungry–where next for naked oats? With a pleasant taste and  texture, Rice of the Prairies has twice the  protein of white rice, 10 times the fibre  and eight times the iron. It is being used  in recipes for all meals of the day.

Man in between 2 tall rows of oats.

Dr. Vern Burrows.

Photo Caption: Dr. Vern Burrows in a field of his hull-less and hairless oats. Credits: Eileen Reardon.


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