There have been many remarkable success stories over 125 years of research at the Central Experimental Farm, from wheat varieties (Marquis) that transformed Canadian agriculture, to new kinds of apples (Lobo, Melba) for Canadian growers, to the beautiful and hardy Explorer roses. The stories continue.
By Richard HinchcliffFriends of the Central Experimental FarmThree 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.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 collegue 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.Rice of the PrairiesNot only has his research helped farmers grow oats, it has also created new marketing opportunities 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 the AC Gehl variety'Grown in Manitoba, the oats were initially marketed as Cavena, 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 the "Rice of the Prairies," receiving a favourablle reception on the CBC's Dragons'Den television show.With a pleasant taste and texture, the 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."Nourish" for the hungryBurrows tells the story of a visit to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada by a representative of a "small soup comany." The visitor noticed a container of Rice of the Prairies and asked for about 25 kg for testing. The "small" 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 per cent 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.Last 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, noo 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 a n excellent example of where this meal in a can could be used."Couldn't have done it without the oats"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, " said Burrows.Much has happened in the three years since Burrows registered his new naked oat variety. He knows that 12 tons of the 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?
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