Predictive yields for small-scale staple crop production in North Central States using common homestead equipment and minimal inputs.

Progress report for FNC23-1378

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2023: $14,852.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Great Lakes Staple Seeds
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Project Coordinator:
Eleanor Hucker
Great Lakes Staple Seeds
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Project Information

Description of operation:

I am Eleanor Hucker, owner of Great Lakes Staple Seeds (GLSS) which offers seeds of staple crops (grains, cereals, legumes, and other calorie crops) for small-scale production in the Great Lakes bioregion. I've been cultivating crops for family and community use for decades and every seed offered by GLSS is grown with the help of my husband Scott on our 10-acre homestead in southeast Michigan. I hold a B.S. and an A.A.S. and have experience in technical science positions, including as a technician for Purdue's Horticulture Department. I gained an appreciation of small-scale, manual labor agriculture while living in and traveling throughout Asia for nearly a decade and this influences my farming philosophies. While abroad I taught secondary science at international schools, a position which required "translating" complex scientific material into an easily accessible and enjoyable format for my students. Upon repatriation, a desire to expand and enhance my family's food security through homestead grown staple crops guides my production endeavors and prompted me to offer a small CSA. My CSA experience of providing families with local, responsibly grown produce revealed my true passion - maintaining and expanding regional staple crop diversity.
My motivation to incorporate GLSS stemmed from an eagerness to inspire and enable others to grow and enjoy their own wide array of crops that are delicious and nutritious or functional. In addition to providing regionally adapted seeds, I strive to provide fellow small-scale growers with relevant information regarding the cultivation, processing, and use of the staple crops on offer. Based on our actual small-scale experience using common equipment, manual labor, and minimal off-farm inputs, this outreach can inform best-practice methods to help growers throughout the North Central region enjoy success in their pursuit of sustainable, ecologically grown staple crops. A bit about Scott - an avid Grand Champion 4H Gardener as a child, he is an advanced manufacturing technical specialist in the automotive field, a position that involves complex data analysis. Currently our educational outreach includes in-person workshops and virtual presentations at libraries and community events. We founded and moderate an active group on Facebook for small-scale growers of grains and cereals and are regularly addressing pertinent customer questions.


In a time of COVID and escalating social turmoil, strengthening food security at the personal and local level is a priority for many families and communities. This includes growing heritage grains and cereals (barley, wheat, rye, maize) and other previously underrepresented staple crops (amaranth, millet, milo, oats, sunflowers, triticale) on small-scale plots. As a result of our focus, Great Lakes Staple Seeds regularly receives questions regarding the cultivation of these crops. Yield and cultivar questions are frequent - “How much [wheat] will I get if I plant [plot size]?” or similarly, “How much [triticale] do I need to plant to feed my chickens?” "Am I better off planting hulled or hull-less [oats]?" "My summers are getting drier, what should I grow?" To most accurately answer these small-scale producer questions, agronomic data more aligned to the methods and cultivars of pre-1950s industrial cultivation that accounts for modern shifts in weather patterns is essential. Currently most agronomic data available focuses on large-scale, industrialized cultivation that uses predictive growth behavior models reliant on historic weather patterns. This is not easily relevant for or applicable to the manual labor, minimal input cultivation methods employed by an increasing number of North Central small-scale producers.

Project Objectives:

Solution (500 words)

Staple crops commonly available to North Central small-scale producers will be field grown, harvested, and processed on my southeast Michigan homestead to generate and analyze relevent agronomic data to better enable growers to more confidently and successfully meet their goal of strengthening their personal or community food security; these crops are: amaranth, barley, beans, buckwheat, maize, millet, milo, oats, potatoes, rye, sunflower, triticale, and wheat. Data collection will consist of samples that span designated staked 10 ft strips within each cultivar's plot. A target of one hundred sample groups per growing season with a minimum of three replications per cultivar will account for differences across crop types and include factors such as grain type, growth habit, and use. Final cultivar selection will consider:

  • amaranth: 1 grain cultivar
  • barley: hulled vs. hull-less; 2-rowed vs. 6-rowed; spring vs. winter
  • beans: common bean for dry use; soybean for oil production; soybean for protein content (tofu)
  • buckwheat: 1 grain cultivar
  • maize: short season; flint; dent
  • millet: 1 grain cultivar
  • milo: 1 grain cultivar
  • oats: hulled vs. hull-less
  • potatoes: 2 cultivars
  • rye: 1 cultivar (rye is wind-pollinated and fall-planted so can only grow one cultivar)
  • sunflower: 1 oilseed cultivar
  • triticale: 2 cultivars
  • wheat: spring vs. winter; market class

Much like pre-industrial agricultural times, crops will be grown with sustainable, ecologically responsible cultivation methods. This includes the reliance on manual labor using common equipment (primarily hand tools and occasionally a small-scale tractor) and minimal off-farm inputs (no chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.)

Plant metrics will be measured, recorded, and analyzed to inform crop-specific assessments including yields. In addition to crop data, relevant weather information, labor metrics, and cultivation notes will be recorded for agronomic and comparitive analysis. 

Results generated will inform our outreach materials designed to provide cultivation guidance to small-scale growers and to address frequently received relevant questions.


  1. During the growing season:
    1. Maintain trial strips within field plots for data collection and for demonstrations and progress updates
    2. Document crop growth (sowing time, maturity progression, harvest) with notes and photos
    3. Document amount, type, and duration of work performed per plot
    4. Document growing conditions (weather, predation events, inputs, and other relevancies)
  2. During the duration of the grant:
    1. Share status reports via social media, live in-field webinars, outreach presentations (live, virtual)
    2. Present at a regional conference (2 trips total)
  3. Post-harvest:
    1. Processing of grains/seeds and final metric measuring
    2. Aggregation of input/output data into master spreadsheet (plot level and test strip results)
    3. Analysis of data using ANOVA to determine which factors are statistically significant for yield/sq ft and energy/yield
    4. Generate tables, charts and plots to explain the numerical results
    5. Update human calorie model to estimate sq ft of each crop to supply relevant portion of calories
    6. Share findings through social media and conferences
    7. Create and share outreach materials (bulletins, videos, presentations) targeted to small-scale growers, both generalized and crop specific



Materials and methods:

This working report updates the status of our project. Please keep in mind my "data analyst" has a full-time, off-farm job and I am contending with spring seed order fulfillment.

A "homepage" for our project was created on our Great Lakes Staple Seed (GLSS) site which includes public access to our presentation pdfs and audience feedback.

Over the 2023 growing season, plants from 323 test strips were collected from 13 crop types. Data processing is ongoing.

We presented a progress report at Marbleseed's 35th annual conference in February in La Crosse, Wisconsin

  • 1 hour presentation with 15 minutes for questions / feedback
  • ~ we estimate at least 50 attendees at our session
  • the session was recorded and simultaneously translated - access to these will be included for the final report as they become available
  • we had 16 audience feedback surveys returned - some of the comments are recorded on our site's conference presentation page; a summary of responses is in progress and will be included for the final report
  • our session was the last of the day on the last day of the conference and there was no press to vacate the room - we engaged in conversations with session attendees for at least 20 minutes beyond the end of the formal session
  • Two comments are most memorable for us - the first coming from a Marbleseed board member saying we definitely have an invite back for next year's conference and the second from an conference attendee who said our presentation was the best he attended and he had attended all three days of the conference
  • 2024-02-20 Marbleseed Hucker SARE Presentation (Feb2024)

We presented a progress report at MIFFS' 20th annual conference in March in Kalamazoo, Michigan

  •  30 minute presentation, unfortunately no time for questions as the room had an immediately following presentation but we were approached by several session attendees in the break times for questions and conversation
  • ~ we estimate at least two dozen attendees at our session
  • the session was recorded - access to this will be included for the final report as it becomes available
  • we had 11 audience feedback surveys returned - some of the comments will be recorded on our site's conference presentation page; a summary of responses is in progress and will be included for the final report
  • 2024-03-08 MIFFS Hucker SARE Presentation (Mar2024) 




Research results and discussion:

Please see the pdfs from our presentations.

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

20 Consultations
2 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Tours
2 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary:

70 Farmers participated
6 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Please see previous page

Learning Outcomes

2 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Project Outcomes

2 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
3 New working collaborations

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.