Evaluating Different Value-added Grains for Lassen County

Progress report for FW21-376

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $25,000.00
Projected End Date: 04/01/2023
Host Institution Award ID: G317-21-W8613
Grant Recipient: Sunset Ranch
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Thomas Traphagan
Sunset Ranch
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Project Information


For decades in Lassen County, California the primary agricultural product produced by farmers in the region has been alfalfa rations intended for dairy farmers. Alfalfa has consistently done well in the dry, high-altitude climate of Northeastern California. However, demand from dairy farmers has steadily decreased due to multiple factors which have resulted in economic challenges for Lassen County growers. Thomas Traphagan, owner of Sunset Ranch, will conduct a field research study to identify an alternative crop for human consumption that could improve profits for Lassen County farmers and provide a high-value direct to consumer product. The research project will focus on four objectives including:

1) Evaluating the performance six grain seed species for the soil and climate of Lassen County; 2) Developing recommendations for optimal organic soil management and irrigation management to incorporate top performing grain crops well-suited for the region.

3) Evaluate the unique the flour and baking qualities of these grains.

4) Educate local growers through multiple outreach activities to encourage the adoption of these recommendations to improve the economic conditions in Lassen County.

This data does not currently exist for the Lassen County region and the results of this research project could provide valuable and actionable information for farmers to adopt the recommendations and produce a new, organic primary crop in an environmentally sustainable way and improve economic conditions for local growers.  

Project Objectives:
  1. Evaluate six grain seed species and varieties and identifying the top performing grain seed for Lassen County. Varieties include Durum wheat, oats and barley.
  2. Assess the optimal organic fertility management, irrigation management, and nutrition budget needs for grain seeds suited for Lassen County’s climate and soil composition.
  3. Research six grain seed species and varieties’ flour and baking qualities.
  4. Educate local growers on how to incorporate alternative high-market value organic grain seeds for human consumption into their practice to improve profitability and stewardship of natural resources.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • David Lile - Technical Advisor
  • Thomas Traphagan - Producer


Materials and methods:

Research Objectives:

  1. Research and evaluate the quality of grain seed varieties that will thrive in the Lassen Country climate by planting six, 10 acre test plots for six varieties of Durum wheat, barley and oats. Upon harvest these grain seed varieties will be evaluated for their Protein Percentage, Moisture Percentage, Test Weight (lbs./bushel) and Pounds per Acre.  UPDATE:

    As previously mentioned, due to the wildfires we missed the growing window and were not able to evaluate the quality of the grain seeds according to our original timeline.  We still plan to test Oats, Barley, and Durum as well as the spring and fall mixes.  These mixes will be comprised of the same species of grain but with different qualities.  This should allow us to test the backing qualities of these grains.  Revised timeframe will be one year from original milestones.  

  2. Construct and encourage a certified California Department of Food and Agriculture Organic planting soil development and fertilization plan for successful grain seed varieties geared for human consumption specific to the region of Lassen County’s climate, soil, irrigation and organic fertility management needs. To do this we will research and conduct soil analysis measuring the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels of the test plots in order to determine optimal nutrient budget for planting in Lassen County.[1] The gallons of water per acre for irrigation purposes will also be measured for the test plots and compared to water requirements for alfalfa.  UPDATE:

    Unfortunately, as outlined above we have not been able to complete this due to the initial delay.  We were able to complete the cover crop and then dumped manure and nitrogen for the 2021 spring field trial which was not successful due to irrigation challenges related to the wildfires.     

  3. Evaluate the suitability of field tested grain seed varieties for milling and baking which  can be successfully marketed to consumers. The variations selected will be chosen for serving as pancake mix, bread mixes and basic flour mixes.  Testing will be completed in coordination with the California Wheat Commission. To determine flour quality we will measure: Flour Yield Percentage, Moisture Percentage, Ash Content and Milling Score. In addition we will also evaluate the Mixograph qualities of the filed trial seed grains by measuring the Absorption Percentage, Mixing Peak Time (Mins); Mixing Peak Height (M.U.). We will also evaluate the following bread qualities: Baking (abs %), Mix Time (Mins); Volume (cc); Dough Handling (1-10), Crumb Texture (1-10) and Bread Symmetry (1-10).[2]UPDATE: As outlined above we were not able to plant the crop nor obtain the product for evaluation. We still intend to complete this in a revised timeframe that is one year out from the original plan.   

The results of this research study will produce locally derived data that can inform our own practice and other growers in Lassen County of species and varieties of grain seeds that are both well-adapted, high yielding and produce quality organic grain intended for human consumption. We anticipate a profitable benefit for the current alfalfa producers and beginning farmers in Lassen County residing in the Northern California region. With only a handful of large scale producers of alfalfa we estimate the small and midsize producers to find benefit in the transition from alfalfa to an added value crop desired for human consumption and favored by the current market.


As outlined above we were delayed by circumstances and forces beyond our we have not been able to complete the study but intend to complete it in a revised timeframe and provide growers in Lassen County this valuable information that currently does not exist.  It is our hope that our findings will help influence growing practices in our community.   

[1] UCDAVIS Plant Tissue Sampling. Accessed on 10/23/2020. At:


[2] Agronomy Research & Information Center Small Grains. Accessed on 10/23/2020.  At: http://smallgrains.ucanr.edu/Annual_Variety_Results/Common_Wheat_Quality_2019/

Research results and discussion:

We did fertilize the 2021 spring field trial plots with nitrogen, gypsum and chicken manure.  We were able to do a visual evaluation of the soil however, as mentioned due to the wildfires and government officials delaying the installation of new electrical system to service the irrigation system for these test plots we missed the growing season for spring 2021.  Seeds were left dormmate in hopes that watering them in the spring 2022 would allow us to save the crop.  Unfortunately, visual inspection of the pots recently revealed large amounts of weeds growing with the grain varieties.  This made the crop unviable from an a study perspective.  To complete this study we we will conduct a new spring field trial in 2022 and plant another field trial in the fall of 2022.  This will push our timeframe out by one year to complete all of the objectives we outlined in the project.   

2022 Annual Updates:

Timeline Activities

1. Research and evaluate grain seed species and soil qualities

1a. Spring wheat plant field trial:

As originally planned, we did commence the project by planting a spring wheat trial of six varieties including Durham, Barley, and Oats on three 10-acer plots and a spring six of three different varieties on a 15-acer plot.  This included fertilizing the areas with nitrogen, gypsum, and chicken manure.  Plans included the installation of irrigation equipment for these test plots which required new electrical installation.  Unfortunately, after the plots were fertilized and planted, there were a series of wildfires in the county and by order of local officials, the electrical system was not allowed to be activated.  Our Technical Advisor, David Lile, of the University of California Davis can provide additional details regarding the serious wildfires that were affecting the region during this time if needed.  This uncontrollable delay resulted in us missing the spring wheat growing window.  The seeds were left dormmate in the plots in hopes that the following year, during the spring 2022 season the crop could be watered and grown.  Unfortunately, after recent evaluation of the originally planted test plots there were significant number of weeds growing throughout the testing plots which compromised the integrity of this crop and would make it difficult to complete the evaluation.  To complete the project study supported by the grant our revised plan is to plant and evaluate the six different wheat species on 2-3 acer plots underneath existing irrigation pivots for the spring 2022 planting season and then do a Fall 2022 planting season thereafter.  We still plan to complete the research objectives of the project but will need to request extension of the grant by one year to accomplish all outlined activities.   

1.b. Fall Grain plant field trial

Unfortunately, this objective was delayed due to the fires that prevented and delayed the 2021 spring Wheat Field Trial.  The spring and fall plant should happen in succession to afford a valuable study and comparison of results.  We plan to follow our objectives and plant a 2022 fall grain plant field trial.   

2. Evaluate soil management 

We did fertilize the 2021 spring field trial plots with nitrogen, gypsum and chicken manure and do a visual evaluation of the soil.  As mentioned earlier due to the delay weeds are now growing on the original plots and we will conduct a new spring field trial in 2022 and will evaluate the soil management as described in the grant proposal.   

3. Evaluate grains harvested from field trials for milling and baking 

We have not been able to evaluate the grains harvested for milling and baking qualities.  This is due to the failure of the 2021 spring field trial.  Grains harvested from the revised timeline for the 2022 spring and 2022 fall field trials will be evaluated as described in grant proposal post-harvest.   

4. Educate local growers on how to incorporate alternative high-market value organic grain seeds 

4a. Pre-harvest field fay educational videos (2021) 

As previously detailed, we were unable to grow the 2021 spring field trial and were not able to complete pre-harvest field day educational videos.  With the revised project timeframe, we still plan to produce these videos.  In the educational section of the progress report, we outline educational outreach to an Alturas school district where we were able to teach 22 different classes about how to test different products.  

4b. Post-harvest field day educational videos (2021) 

As previously detailed, due to the wildfires we were not able to complete the 2021 spring field trial and were unable to produce post-harvest educational videos as originally planned.  We do plan to complete this activity for both the 2022 spring and fall field trials.  

4e. Articles in trade publication (2021) 

As previously detailed, due to the wildfires and the subsequent delays were not able to analyze any data for a trade publication.  With the revised 2022 spring and fall trials we do plan to write and publish an article in a trade publication when we analyze the results.    

4g. Produce * Guide to Growing Wheat in Lassen* 

As previously detailed, due to the wildfires and the subsequent delays were not able to summarize our findings into growing recommendations at this point.  With the revised 2022 spring and fall trials we do plan to write and publish a tailored guide to growing in Lassen County.     

4j. Social media and website outreach 

At this point we were not able to complete the social media and website outreach with findings, videos or links to publications due to the delays already detailed.  We do plan to use this as a platform to share our experiences and knowledge gained.  The only activity to report to date is that Andrea Traphagan posted on Facebook the Alturas School District education event.     

Timeframe Chart  

Start Date  

End Date  

1. Research and evaluate grain seed species and soil qualities  



1.a. Spring Wheat Plant Field Trial (June 22)  



2.b. Fall Grain Plant Field Trial (Sep Oct 22)  



2. Evaluate soil management (June 22-Octo)  



3. Evaluate grains harvested from filed trials for milling and baking Aug 22- July 2023  



4.  Educate local growers on how to incorporate alternative high-market value organic grain seeds - Go one year out.   



4.a Preharvest field day  Educational Videos  



4.b. Post-Harvest day  Educational Videos  



4.c. Preharvest field day  Educational Videos  



4.d. Post-Harvest day Educational Videos  



4.e. Articles in trade publication  



4.f. Articles in trade publication  



4.g. Produce “Guide to Growing Wheat in Lassen”   



4.h. SARE report completed   



4.i. SARE final report completed  



4.j. Social Media and website outreach  



Budget Updates:

  • During the COVID 19 Pandemic, the California Wheat Commission was not able to reopen these classes until the spring of 2022.  To date we have not completed these lab training sessions but still plan to do so after we have harvested the 2022 spring and 2022 fall crops.  One reason for completing the training is to take samples of grains that have been grown to the training session and you are able to perform analysis on those samples.  This will be important for evaluating the grains grown in the field trials. By July 2023 we anticipate that we will take the California Wheat Commission Lab Training session and evaluate the grain samples.     
  • We were able to purchase the Year 1 tests including the grain tests and soil tests. 
  • We were also able to purchase some of the minor equipment, including probes, lab scale and other supplies.   
  • We did purchase the 3000 lbs of seed and the fertilizer for the 2021 Spring Field Trial.  
Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

1 Consultations

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:

This project required an electrical infastructure connection to water the grains needed for the research project. Unfortunately, the electrical connection installation was delayed due to wildfires in the area.  After connection was installed, electricity was turned off by California, state officials and we were unable to water the planted grains needed for this study.  This delay resulted in missing the optimal growing time frame for last season. If we were to water so late in season the crop would have been wasted.  We left seeds dormant and initiated watering this season April 20th, 2022. Happy to report seeds are growing and expect to complete project. 

Planned activities include a May 9th, 2022, AG in the Classroom event in Alturas, California and we are expecting 22 classes to rotate through our booth to discuss wheat and our grant project.  We are also working with local ag teachers for visiting classes and educating on wheat growing and testing of types of grains being grown.

2 Farmers intend/plan to change their practice(s)

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

Due to the delay mentioned in the report we are requesting consideration for a one year extension on this grant project.  

1 Producers reported gaining knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness as a result of the project
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.