Farmer-generated training and equipment solutions for producing and processing value-added grains

Progress report for LNE17-357

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2017: $76,019.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2021
Grant Recipient: Organic Growers’ Research and Information-Sharing Network
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Elizabeth Dyck
Organic Growers' Research and Information-Sharing Network
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Project Information

Performance Target:

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.

Introduction:

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.   

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Nagisa Manabe (Educator)
  • Phoebe Schreiner (Educator)
  • Joseph Heckman (Educator and Researcher)

Research

Hypothesis:

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.

Materials and methods:

The five-member advisory committee, each of whom is experienced with the dehulling process and machinery, met in December 2017 and again in January 2018 to consider the methodology for the research. The following has been approved by the committee.

Dehulling machines to be tested include a commercial impact dehuller, a commercial abrasion dehuller, and three famer-made dehullers. 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 at least two ancient wheats (einkorn, spelt, emmer), each grown in the same year at the same farm. 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.  Sample throughput time will be determined with a stopwatch. This procedure will be replicated three times. After throughput, each sample will be weighed and then separated into dehulled kernel, undehulled kernel, empty hull, and fines fractions.  Because presence of broken kernels can negatively affect marketability and shelf life, 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.

Research results and discussion:

Due to the difficulty in purchasing the necessary amounts of ancient wheats and the covid pandemic, the research is still ongoing.  To date, three of the five dehullers have been tested.  The remaining dehullers are scheduled to be tested in February 2021.

Participation Summary
4 Farmers participating in research

Education

Educational approach:

The training program consisted of a series of workshops and field days facilitated by  farmer/processor experts and OGRIN, CADE, and NOFA-NJ staff that occurred across eastern NY, NJ, and central and eastern PA at farms, processing venues, farmer conferences, and, in one case,  a university experimental farm. To help plan the educational program and the equipment research (see research section above), an advisory committee was formed, consisting 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.  Together with the project coordinator, the advisory committee developed a list of training topics to be covered, including best field practices, post-harvest handling, processing, accessing needed equipment, and marketing.

From 2018 the 2020, the project held 15 training events (see Milestone 3 for details).  The following topics were covered at multiple events (number of events in parentheses):

  • Best field practices (6)
  • Combine operation (2)
  • Grain quality standards (4)
  • Low-cost drying/storage options and pest management strategies for grain storage (4)
  • Grain-cleaning equipment (5)
  • Grain-processing opportunities (11)
  • Accessing affordable equipment (9)
  • Marketing (7)

One planned topic, dehuller research results, was not included in the training events because dehulling trials were delayed, first, due to difficulty in sourcing adequate ancient wheat seed lots for replicated research, and, second, by the covid pandemic.  Nevertheless, single-replicate results of dehuller efficiency were presented at several events.  The pandemic also necessitated the use of webinars with embedded video for the last three trainings in October/November 2020.

In addition to the training events, a tasting event of grains and grain products was held for several hundred members of the public (see Milestone 3).

 

Milestones

Milestone #1 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

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.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
1000
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
1500
Proposed Completion Date:
March 30, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
February 26, 2019
Accomplishments:

In addition to postings on the project cooperators’ websites, information about the project and opportunities for grower participation was disseminated through multiple 2018 events:  presentations at the NOFA-NJ Jan 2018 annual winter conference, the Feb 2018 Hudson Valley Grain School, the Feb 2018 annual meeting of the Vegetable Growers’ Association of New Jersey, a June field day and an August annual tasting event at Rutgers Snyder Research Farm (over 540 attendees total). A featured article on the project in the Winter 2019 Pennsylvania Certified Organic newsletter Organic Matters (which has a distribution of ~1500) has further disseminated information on the project to area farmers.

Milestone #2 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

200 return on-line or direct mail surveys detailing their on-hand equipment and its condition as well as their equipment and training needs.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
200
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
118
Proposed Completion Date:
December 1, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 2, 2020
Accomplishments:

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.

118 surveys have been completed.

Milestone #3 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

250 attend one or more intensive short courses and workshops on best production practices, postharvest grain handling equipment and its use, and marketing strategies.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
250
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
756
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2018
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 2, 2020
Accomplishments:

      Training events:

  1. Improve Your Crop Rotation and Increase Profitability with Grains and other High-Value Crops(presenter: Elizabeth Dyck, OGRIN), Jan 28, NOFA-NJ winter conference, New , Brunswick, NJ: high-value grain crop options, best management practices, essential production equipment, processing equipment options (52 participants).
  2. Specialty Grain Markets(presenters: Lauren Melodia, Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship, and Elizabeth Dyck, OGRIN), Jan 28, NOFA-NJ winter conference, New Brunswick, NJ: profit potential of high-value grains, market quality requirements, marketing strategies (28 participants).
  3. Grow and Process Value-Added Grains(presenter: Elizabeth Dyck, OGRIN), Feb 7, NJ Vegetable Growers’ Association annual meeting, Atlantic City, NJ:  benefits of including grains in rotation, market requirements, essential production and post-harvest handling (30 participants).
  4. The Ancient Wheats(presenters: Elizabeth Dyck, OGRIN, Sharon-Burns Leader, Bread Alone Bakery), Feb 9, Hudson Valley Grain School, Coxsackie, NY:  best management practices, essential grain equipment, processing opportunities, whole grain and bread tasting (65 participants)
  5. Grow, Process, Market, Eat Value-Added Grains(presenters: farmers Kit Kelley, Washingtonville, PA, Teena Bailey, Germansville, PA, and Lamar Stauffer, New Holland, PA; Joseph Heckman, Rutgers; Elizabeth Dyck, OGRIN), June 26, Rutgers Snyder Research Farm, Pittstown, NJ: tour of demonstration plots of 30 fall-and spring-planted grain types and varieties and einkorn N fertility experiment (with discussion of essential management practices), demonstration of grain cleaners and small-scale oat roller and dehuller, blind tasting of whole cooked grains, products made from local grains by four bakeries/crepe makers. (68 participants).
  6. Value-Added Grain Production in New Jersey(Presenters farmers Kent Kimball, Belvidere, NJ; Scott Morgan, Hillsborough, NJ; Tom Zeng, Flemington, NJ), Jan. 26, NOFA-NJ 2019 winter conference, New Brunswick, NJ: Farmer panel discussion on establishing a value-added grain enterprise, crop selection, storage options, markets, grain prices, and current constraints (30 participants).
  7. On-Farm Processing: A Small-Scale Farmer’s Success Story(Presenter Henry Beiler, Wholesome Acres, Watsontown, PA), January 26, NOFA-NJ 2019 winter conference, New Brunswick, NJ:  Farmer/processor Henry Beiler gave an overview of his grain enterprise that is built around the ancient wheat einkorn, displayed the small-scale dehulling machine that he has built and now offers for sale, discussed the benefits and challenges of becoming a registered seed seller of einkorn, and offered participants a taste of einkorn bread and other baked products (26 participants).
  8. Assessing and DevelopingMarkets for Value-Added Grains (Presenters Mark Fischer, Castle Valley Mill; Scott Morgan, Morganics Family Farm; Brad Estabrooke, Breuckelen Distilling; Dennis Nesel, Hudson Valley Malt; Lauren Melodia, CADE; Elizabeth Dyck, OGRIN) Feb.1, 5th Annual Hudson Valley Value-Added Grain School, Coxsackie, NY: Small- and medium-scale grain-processing enterprises; market outlook and grain quality requirements for the value-added milling, distilling, and malting markets; accessing capital, and using marketing toolkits and enterprise budgets (63 participants).
  9. Grain Lollapalooza(Presenters Thor Oechsner, Newfield, NY; Paul Koch, Earth’s Harvest Farm; Mike Hozer, Leonard Bussanich, Larry Mahmarian, River Valley Community Grains; Elizabeth Dyck, OGRIN) Aug 28, Earth’s Harvest Farm, Morris, NY:  Sourcing and using a combine, developing a small-scale grain processing enterprise, demonstrations of small-scale grain cleaner, oat roller, dehuller, and hammer mill, grains and grain products tasting.  Co-sponsored by CADE and OGRIN (36 participants).
  10. Going with the Grain(Presenters Amy Halloran; Aaron McLeod, Hartwick College Center for Craft and Food Beverages; Walter Riesen, Star Route Farm; Elizabeth Dyck, OGRIN) Sept.29, Danforth Jersey Farm, Jefferson, NY: Grain production, grain quality parameters and testing, current markets, demonstrations of oat roller, mill, and dehuller; tasting of grain and grain products.  Co-sponsored by Jefferson Main St, CADE, and OGRIN (34 participants).
  11. Small-Scale Specialty Grain Production (Presenters Henry Beiler, Wholesome Acres; Kit Kelley, Whitefrost Farm, Lamar Stauffer, Stauffer Farm; Elizabeth Dyck, OGRIN) Feb 7, PASA Annual Conference, Lancaster, PA: Optimum management practices, sourcing seed and needed equipment, critical grain-quality parameters and how to meet them, processing and marketing options, and current wholesale and retail prices. (45 participants)
  12. Small-Scale Grain Processing Equipment  (Presenters Henry Beiler, Wholesome Acres; Lamar Stauffer, Stauffer Farm; Joseph Lapp, Sunnyburn Welding) Feb 7, PASA Annual Conference, Lancaster, PA: Presentations of equipment for grain cleaning, dehulling, oat-rolling, and milling.  (25 participants)
  13. Grain Production with a Focus on Harvesting:  Webinar and field video (Presenters Tom Zeng, Zeng Farm; Scott Morgan, Morganics Family Farm; Elizabeth Dyck, OGRIN)  Oct 19, NOFA-NJ webinar series: The harvesting process.  (103 participants) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW9rea2Nl68&feature=youtu.be;https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W4m2rviKRg&feature=youtu.be)
  14. Cleaning, drying, storage (Presenter Aaron Gabriel, Cornell Cooperative Extension) Oct 26, NOFA-NJ webinar series. (82 participants) https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3L-lOCA5wsQOVjrCdm299WHKVj4forOS
  15. Processing and Marketing: Webinar and field video (Presenters Leonard Bussanich and Larry Mahmarian, River Valley Community Grains; Henry Beiler, Wholesome Acres; Joel Steigman, Small Valley Milling; Elizabeth Dyck, OGRIN)  Nov 2, NOFA-NJ webinar series: Small- and medium-scale grain processing and retail and wholesale marketing options.  (69 participants) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_bL6qedk7E&feature=youtu.be)

 

Project event for consumers:

  1. Value-Added Grains Tasting(presenters: Elizabeth Dyck, OGRIN, NOFA-NJ volunteers), Aug 29, Annual Snyder Farm Great Tomato Tasting, Pittstown, NJ:  blind tasting of cooked small grains and breads made with heritage and modern wheat varieties, other breads, salad, and dessert made with value-added grains (~300).

 

Milestone #4 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

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.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
100
Actual number of farmer beneficiaries who participated:
253
Proposed Completion Date:
December 1, 2019
Status:
Completed
Date Completed:
November 2, 2020
Accomplishments:

To better accommodate farmers across the region, six workshops (see full descriptions under Milestone 3) were held (in New Brunswick, NJ, Coxsackie, Morris, and Jefferson, NY, Lancaster, PA, and through a webinar (NOFA-NJ series) which featured grain-processing presentations and demonstrations.  Individual equipment projects are ongoing (see Milestone 5). 

Milestone #5 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

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.

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
70
Proposed Completion Date:
April 30, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

In 2018, 21 farmers contacted OGRIN directly for help with equipment needs.  Of these, 14 projects are currently underway.   Eight involve dehulling equipment; one, construction of a prototype aspirator; one, testing of a grain cleaner; and four, development of oat-rolling capacity. 

The oat-rolling projects illustrate the range of farmer equipment needs and strategies used by the project to address these needs.  OGRIN had previously identified several oat-crimper machines developed in the Amish community that might be used to roll raw oats.  OGRIN helped a PA farmer purchase one of these models in 2017, which the farmer had motorized and mounted (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Oat crimper motorized and mounted to roll raw oats

However, in 2018 the farmer requested help in increasing throughput of the machine, which was accomplished by a project mentor advising the farmer on belt replacement and roller adjustment.  Three others wanted an oat roller, but wanted a more standard product (flat rolled oat) than the oat crimper could deliver.  Two project farmer mentors worked with the original oat-crimper maker to develop an oat roller with two improvements: 1) lightly knurled rather than indented rolls and 2) both rollers attached to the drive chain.  A prototype of the machine was successfully tested at the project’s field event in June, and three improved oat rollers have since been manufactured and purchased.  Two farmers have motorized and mounted the machine themselves (see Figure 2, e.g.).  A third entity, a new small-scale mill whose operators do not have mechanical backgrounds, has had the project identify local experts to produce a ready-to-use product (see Figure 3).  

In addition to the improved oat roller, the project has developed a small-scale, abrasion type dehuller and a grain aspirator, which are both currently being tested.

 

Figure 2: Improved oat roller mounted on a table and motorized by the farmer (note the farm-built shields for the belt and roller)
Figure 3: Improved oat roller motorized and wired by Green Bank Motors (New Holland, PA) and mounted with shields on a mobile base by Sunnyburn Welding (Airville, PA)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2019, 23 regional farmers contacted the project on value-added grain production and received mentoring on production, harvesting, and storage techniques and help in sourcing seed and accessing markets.  Eight farmers received assistance on equipment projects, involving combines (2,) dehullers (4), and oat rollers (2).

In 2020, 21 regional farmers contacted the project on value-added grain production and received mentoring on production, harvesting, and storage techniques and help in sourcing seed and accessing markets.   Six farmers and two processing facilities received assistance on equipment projects, including seed cleaners (3), oat rollers (2), dehullers (1), puffers (1), and mills (1).

 

Milestone #6 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

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

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
50
Proposed Completion Date:
September 30, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone will be reported on after the project’s postsurveys are collected and analyzed.

Milestone #7 (click to expand/collapse)
What beneficiaries do and learn:

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

Proposed number of farmer beneficiaries who will participate:
35
Proposed Completion Date:
November 30, 2020
Status:
In Progress
Accomplishments:

This milestone will be reported on after the project’s postsurveys are collected and analyzed.

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

60 Consultations
1 Tours
4 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

185 Farmers
28 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Learning Outcomes

35 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
3 Service providers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of project outreach
3 Agricultural service providers reported changes in knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

Critical topics on which knowledge, attitudes, skills, and awareness increased:

  1. Types and varieties of value-added grains that may be grown in the Northeast 
  2. Critical management practices, especially timeliness of planting and harvesting
  3. Essential equipment needed, especially combines and grain cleaners
  4. Grain-processing equipment sourcing options, especially farmer-built or modified options
  5. Grain market quality requirements

Performance Target Outcomes

Target #1

Target: number of farmers:
35
Target: change/adoption:

Repair, modify, build or purchase scale-appropriate grain production or processing equipment

Target: amount of production affected:

20 new and 15 expanded value-added grain enterprises

Target: quantified benefit(s):

average annual increase in sales of $3,000 per farm

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.