Value-added grain production provides Northeastern growers with an opportunity to significantly increase farm profitability and enhance agroecosystem function. “Exotic” grains, such as the ancient wheats einkorn, emmer, and spelt, are in increasing demand by consumers, and currently fetch retail prices of $1.50-$7 per pound as locally grown, organic whole berries. Even the traditional small grains crops—when grown for food-grade quality and suitably processed—can sell for high prices: Organic raw rolled oats, e.g., retails at up to $6 per pound and organic rye flour (for which consumer demand is increasing) for around $1.70 pound. The local foods movement, which is fueling this demand and these prices, is forecast to continue to grow. Fortunately, these crops, if managed properly, also maintain and increase soil health through dense ground cover for soil protection and significant biomass (straw) production that is returned as organic matter to the soil. In addition, they serve as spatial niches for soil-enhancing forage legumes in the rotation: Legumes can be interseeded with spring/summer grains or frost-seeded into winter grains with no or minimal effect on grain yield.
Value-added grain production has great potential for growers who are limited in land and must therefore concentrate on optimizing profitability per land unit area. These would include many farmers in NY, PA, and NJ where farm size averages <140 acres. Vegetable farms would additionally benefit from the inclusion of a grain enterprise because grain crops (as grasses) can serve as break crops for diseases and insect pests in otherwise predominantly broad-leaved crop rotations. Farms with livestock can benefit not only from the grain products produced for sale but can utilize grain not meeting food-grade standards for feed and crop byproducts (straw, empty hulls) for bedding.
Two major constraints to developing profitable value-added grain enterprises in the Northeast are lack of expertise in food-grade grain production and difficulty in finding affordable, scale-appropriate grain production and processing equipment. Because food-grade grain production had largely left the Northeast by the beginning of the 20th century, growers in the region are likely to have experience growing small grains only as cover crops or feed crops. However, food-grade production requires additional management techniques and equipment to achieve needed crop quality. The ancient wheats pose special management considerations from planting seed in awned hulls to dehulling the grain after combining. Smaller-scale grain production equipment, especially harvesters, has not been produced in the U.S. in decades. The same situation applies to smaller-scale processing equipment: The only commercially available dehullers in the U.S., e.g., are large-capacity models requiring a substantial initial capital outlay (>$20,000) for purchase and installation.
This project will address the lack of expertise in food-grade grain production and processing through a training program for NY, PA, and NJ growers. The topics for the training program have been selected by the farmers themselves through a survey conducted in the fall and winter of 2015/2016 and include both management practices and equipment critical for high-quality grain production. As requested by the farmers surveyed, the training program will also include instruction on marketing and distribution strategies. Instruction for the training will be provided largely by innovative farmers and entrepreneurs who have been working over the past decade to develop viable value-added grain production and processing systems and will take place as much as possible on farms or at processing facilities.
The training program will also incorporate solutions generated by farmers themselves to the problem of sourcing effective, affordable equipment. For example, a major strategy has been to refurbish or renovate used equipment. This has been particularly successful in terms of the air-screen seed cleaner, an essential piece of equipment for producing food-grade grains. While new cleaners sell for $4500 to $25,000, farmers have been able to purchase and repair used air-screen cleaners at costs ranging from $100 to $1000 and to successfully clean grain with them. In terms of needed dehulling capacity, farmers’ solutions have included modifying existing farm equipment to create dehullers, building dehullers from scratch, or sharing dehulling equipment. A research component of the project will evaluate both farmer-made dehullers and commercial models for functionality and cost-effectiveness. The training program will end with an opportunity for participants to develop individual equipment projects (e.g., repairing a used air screen cleaner, modifying a hammer mill to dehull grain, or constructing an aspiration system) for which they will receive one-on-one consultations with mentors provided by the project.
This approach will provide farmers with the management techniques and low-cost equipment options needed to start up or expand value-added grain production and processing.
Thirty-five farmers repair, modify, build or purchase scale-appropriate grain production or processing equipment resulting in 20 new and 15 expanded value-added grain enterprises that lead to an average annual increase in sales of $3,000 per farm.
Dehulling equipment available to smaller-scale growers and processors of ancient grains varies in effectiveness, cost, and safety for the operator. Systematic testing of this equipment will provide farmers with options best suited to their individual enterprises and equipment budgets.
(The five-member advisory committee, each of whom is experienced with the dehulling process and machinery, met in December 2017 to consider the methodology for the research. The following has been approved by the committee. Further refinements, including a final list of the dehulling machines to be tested, will be made at an upcoming meeting in January 2018.)
Because dehulling efficiency has been shown to be affected by crop species, variety, and growing season, each dehuller will be tested using a single variety of each ancient grain (einkorn, spelt, emmer), each grown in the same year. Seed lots will be tested for grain moisture, which can significantly affect dehulling efficiency, before each dehuller trial. Each dehuller will be fed 5 kg samples of each ancient wheat in random order. Sample throughput time will be determined with a stopwatch. This procedure will be replicated three times. Each sample will later be separated into dehulled kernel, undehulled kernel, empty hull, and fines fractions using a tabletop aspirator and lab-scale gravity table. Because presence of broken kernels can negatively affect marketability, four 10 g subsamples of each sample will be separated by hand into whole kernel and broken kernel fractions.
Data to be collected include mass of the fractions in each sample and throughput time per sample. Dehulling efficiency will be calculated using the advisory committee farmers’ preferred method, i.e., as a ratio of mass of dehulled kernels (whole and broken) to whole sample mass. Percent broken kernels will be calculated as the ratio of mass of broken kernels to mass of whole and broken kernels. Each measurement parameter will be analyzed using one-way ANOVA followed by mean separation using Tukey’s test.
Data collection is slated to begin in Spring 2018.
The core of the training program will be a series of intensive one-day short courses and half-day field days/workshops that will largely be taught by farmer/processor experts and located on farms or at processing venues. One exception will be a field day on planting rates and fertility management for modern and ancient grains that will be held at the Rutgers University Snyder research farm because of the number and complexity of the demonstration plots needed. Year one of the project will focus on instruction on critical production practices, the basic equipment needed for food-grade grain production, and marketing strategies. Year two will begin with a short course on dehulling (during which the results of the project’s research on dehulling will be presented and discussed) and other types of grain-processing. Participants will be encouraged to fill out a worksheet to help them identify a specific equipment need that would facilitate start up or expansion of a value-added grains enterprise and that they could address with support from the project over the course of the next six months.
Training topics will include
- Best field practices
- Setting and operating the combine
- Essential grain-quality standards
- Low-cost drying/storage options and pest management strategies for grain storage
- Essential grain-cleaning equipment
- Grain-processing opportunities
- Buying used equipment (how to source, refurbish, maintain, and operate it for optimal results)
- Modifying existing equipment to serve new functions (e.g., transforming feed grinders into dehullers)
- Building your own equipment
- Buying new, low-cost equipment from local/regional small-scale manufacturing enterprises
- Project research results on dehuller efficiency
- Custom combining, cleaning, and processing options
- Equipment-sharing options
- Innovative marketing and distribution strategies
1000 Northeast farmers learn of the project’s training opportunities through project partners’ email lists, listserves, postings to on-line farmer communities, electronic newsletters, and direct mailings.
Widespread announcement of the project was delayed until the first project events were scheduled (three farmer conference presentations and one training school in Jan/Feb 2018). Project information is now being disseminated to farmers throughout the region.
200 return on-line or direct mail surveys detailing their on-hand equipment and its condition as well as their equipment and training needs.
A survey that documents farmer current practices and farmer information and equipment needs has been developed and is being distributed electronically and through the mail. The survey will also be distributed and collected at all training events throughout the project.
250 attend one or more intensive short courses and workshops on best production practices, postharvest grain handling equipment and its use, and marketing strategies. January 2018-September 2018
To help the project coordinator and cooperators better plan the educational program and the equipment research, an advisory committee has been formed and has held its first meeting. The committee consists of four farmers with extensive experience in value-added grain production and processing (Henry Beiler, Watsontown, PA; Kit Kelley, Danville, PA; Lamar Stauffer, New Holland, PA; and Nigel Tudor, Avella, PA) and Joseph Lapp (Airville, PA), a welder and grain equipment developer.
Events scheduled to date include two workshop presentations at the January 2018 NOFA-NJ winter conference, a presentation at the New Jersey Agricultural Convention and Trade Show (February 2018), and a session at the 4th Annual Hudson Valley Value-Added Grain School and Trade Show (February 2018). For a July 2018 training day at the Rutgers Snyder Research farm, a trial on planting rate and fertility management of winter einkorn has been planted along with 20 demonstration plots of winter grains with high profit potential. At a nearby farm (Morganics Family Farm, Hillsborough, NJ) demonstration plots of fall-planted ancient wheats have been established. Additional training events to cover the topics listed in the educational approach of the grant (see above) are being planned and scheduled.
100 attend an intensive short course on dehulling and sourcing or creating dehulling or other grain processing equipment and identify a specific equipment need that the project could help them address. October 2018.
70 farmers contact project staff or farmer experts for additional assistance on individual equipment projects or download/request mailings of materials generated by the short courses (e.g., videos, equipment guides, and blueprints) and the project’s research on scale-appropriate processing equipment. October 2018-April 2020
50 farmers return project post-surveys documenting increased expertise in grain management, use of grain equipment, individual equipment projects, new or expanded grain enterprises utilizing this equipment, and impact on farm sales. July 2020
35 farmers repair, modify, build or purchase scale-appropriate grain production or processing equipment resulting in 20 new and 15 expanded value-added grain enterprises that lead to an average annual increase in sales of $3,000 per farm. August 2020
Milestone Activities and Participation Summary
Performance Target Outcomes
Repair, modify, build or purchase scale-appropriate grain production or processing equipment
20 new and 15 expanded value-added grain enterprises
average annual increase in sales of $3,000 per farm