Nordic heritage varieties of cereals. History, cultivation, breeding, milling, baking, brewing, food quality and health

Time: 15-17 July, 2014
Place: Mariehamn, Åland, Finland

This seminar described the situation for heritage varieties of cereals in the Nordic-Baltic region. The network for heritage varieties started in 2008, in the programme for New Nordic Food, and every year it holds a Nordic conference. The seminar was attended by 65 participants mainly from Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark but also from Estonia, Russia, England and Scotland. We wanted to inspire food culture with heritage varieties for increased biodiversity, encouraging local food production and use of food when promoting the region. Nordic food products from organic agriculture are improving taste and health and are fundamental in our activities. The seminar gave a picture of the development of heritage varieties within plant breeding and food production and inspired local organic production of cereals.

The first session focused on the genetic material of heritage varieties in the gene banks. The first keynote speaker was Igor Loskutov from the Vavilov Institute in St Petersburg. He was followed by Jette Nydam Hansen from NordGen in Alnarp describing the collections of Nordic landraces of cereals. Maarit Heinonen from the Finnish Agrifood research centre described the situation for heritage varieties in situ and ex situ in Finland.

The practical use of heritage varieties in the different countries was covered by Anders Lunneryd from Wästgötarna in Sweden, Silja Valand from Norway and Anders Borgen from Agrologica Denmark.

The interesting history of rye growing in Finland was related by Hannu Ahokas, as a summary from his book on how the exported winter rye form evolved in co-cultivation with spring-sown seasonal crops in Finland, where the slash-and-burn and rihi traditions selected against the rachis brittleness of the weedy rye. Annika Michelsson from Estonia also described the growing technique of slash-and-burn rye.

The afternoon session dealt with value-added processing of cereals: bread, beer and food. Kristina Creutz from Malmgård talked about science meeting the market and the tension between theory and practice and Mikael Björklund from Smakbyn talked about local organic food from Åland. The first day ended with a poster session and stakeholder market where we saw a lot of cereal products of heritage varieties from the different countries.

The second day started with a session on health aspects of cereals. The keynote speaker, Professor Kati Katina from the Nordic rye group, University of Helsinki, described fascinating research on the influence of rye products on human health. Hans Larsson from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences presented analyses of minerals in heritage varieties and stressed the importance of wholemeal flour for human health.

During the afternoon, breeding of heritage varieties in the different countries was discussed. Evolutionary breeding was cited as an appropriate method for organic small-scale farming with local adaptation and high quality of products. The day ended with a field trip inspecting demonstrations of heritage varieties.