The main activities of the Plant Improvement Section concern the genetic improvement of barley, forage plants, seed and food legumes, durum and bread wheat, as well as the study of genetic and environmental factors affecting their yield, quality, and resistance to diseases. Also, the Section is employed in the management of aromatic plants. Furthermore, methods of improving cultural practices of forage plants, grain cereals, legumes, and aromatic plants are studied. The broad objectives of the barley breeding program are to develop new cultivars with adaptability to climate change, possessing yield consistency under rainfed conditions, high quality and durable resistance to foliar diseases. Special emphasis is given to the development of varieties suitable for Organic Agriculture. Two new barley varieties have been registered in the National Varieties Catalogue, named PIGI and POLITIKO. Participatory breeding approaches have been developed where the feedback of farmers is regularly received. Further, the cowpea breeding program aims at improving the productivity of local landraces through novel phenotyping approaches, in situ conservation, and studies of the soil and root microbiome. The Section is involved in various Horizon2020 and other projects, including DIVERSIFOOD, AGRICYGEN, ORGANICO, SUPREME and OLIVE MIRACLE.
The wheat improvement program aims at enhancing the productivity and the economic value of the trading products (grain and straw) through hybridization and selection. Environmental and genetic factors affecting grain yield, water use efficiency and quality are within the aims of the current research work. Two new varieties of bread wheat were enlisted in the National Varieties Catalogue (NVC). These varieties are AKHELIA and YIOLOU. Emphasis has been given on the production of new wheat varieties for fodder. These varieties should have amongst others: high hay yield, high protein content and they lack awns which hurt the animal’s mouths.
The cereal technology programme is complementary to the cereal improvement program and aims at identifying varieties with suitable quality to the local users' needs and to study their improvement through proper cultural practices. Furthermore, among its research priorities is the study of all factors affecting the quality of industrially made Cyprus bread.
The legume’s breeding program has also produced new varieties. Two new vetch varieties were enlisted in the NVC and are called KIMON and ZENON. Also two new groundnut varieties were enlisted in the NVC and are called NTOPIA and NIKOKLIA.
Regarding medicinal and aromatic plants (MAP) the research proposals “Genetic identification of five species Mentha sp. with molecular methods” and “Prospects for the cultivation of Stevia rebaudiana in Cyprus” have been implemented. The first proposal was aiming to compare the five species of Mentha that occur in Cyprus and to find differences between them on a molecular level. The species grown mainly in Cyprus is Mentha viridis, which was compared with the species Mentha longifolia, Mentha aquatica, Mentha pulegium, Mentha piperita. A comparison between four varieties of stevia, Stevia rebaudiana, in Cypriot soil and climate conditions and an economic analysis of the cultivation was carried out during the second proposal. The research continues with Candy variety, which stood out due to its productive and qualitative characteristics from the varieties studied. Three different cultivation techniques, the level of irrigation, the time of application of the fertilization and the cutting height in the harvest have been applied and their effects on the productive and qualitative characteristics of the plant, the antioxidant effect of the extract and the phenolic content of the plant have been studied.
In addition, the study, evaluation and exploitation of edible MAP of the Cyprus flora have been launched. The recent years training workshops, meetings and seminars on the processing and marketing of MAP, market trends, the development of entrepreneurship and the role of research have taken place in ARI for herbs producers, processors and other stakeholders in the sector and aim at training the producers and strengthening the sector.
Christina Pitta, Dionysia Fasoula, Andreas Pallides, Constantina Stavridou