Progress report for ONC21-090
Reinvigorating small grains production plays an important role in diversifying crop rotations and improving farm incomes, regional supply chains, and food security in the North Central Region (NCR). There are many reasons farmers may not currently produce small grains for high-value food-grade markets including artisan milling, brewing, and distilling; awareness of and ability to conduct successful post-harvest handling procedures are among them.
A primary factor in postharvest grain quality loss is a lack of detailed, current, and accessible farmer-centric information on proper cleaning, drying, and storage procedures. Most published resources available address commodity-scale production; on the small to midsize scales, information tends to come from personal experience and informal farmer-to-farmer communication. Development and dissemination of postharvest handling guidelines for this scale of production is needed for these farmers to access high-quality food-grade markets and to expand community food security.
We will work with five food-grade small grain producers to develop resources for other farmers interested in growing value-added wheat and rye, creating: 1) a handbook for cleaning, drying, and storage fundamentals, 2) five case studies featuring farmer experiences and lessons learned, and 3) a video series showcasing farmers setting up and operating cleaning, drying, and storage equipment.
1. Co-develop a handbook with farmers for value-added wheat and rye postharvest handling aimed at small and midsize farms. Sections will include: cleaning, drying, storage, equipment considerations and decision-making, and financing resources.
2. Feature challenges encountered by collaborators during postharvest handling through a series of case studies highlighting how farmers developed systems to meet their postharvest needs (e.g., choosing cleaning and storage equipment, business planning and identifying funding to develop a cleaning facility, etc.)
3. Produce a series of video tutorials featuring farmers setting up and using equipment to clean, dry, and store wheat and rye.
Educational & Outreach Activities
For the first year of this project, the team made three on-farm visits with two others scheduled for winter 2022. Researchers and collaborators have also had several phone conversations and ongoing email dialog about the content planned for the post-harvest handling guidebook and accompanying resources for which an outline has been created, and have been gathering audio and video recordings to include in the final product.
Additionally, Wesley Rieth of Granor Farm in MI, one of the farmers involved in this project, spoke about his post-harvest handling practices at the MI Craft Beer and Barley conference in January 2022 and at the UW-Madison OGRAIN conference in February 2022.
Upon completion, this project will be critical for advancing more farmers' understanding of how to conduct successful post-harvest handling practices on their farms, and how to identify the resources and information available to them to support these activities. Improving access to high-value markets for wheat and rye will offer a new marketing avenue for more small and mid-size farmers, deepen relationships across the grain value chain between farmers and buyers, and improve environmental outcomes on farms through diversified rotations.
A grain farmer in central IL who is a partner on this project shared how critical successful post-harvest handling practices are for their farms' financial viability. This farm is being featured as part of our project because of their small scale and the high degree of value-adding processing they conduct on-farm. Last year, improper storage lead to several tons of food-grade barley they grew going out of condition for sale to food-grade markets (pest contamination) resulting in a loss of significant time input and potential financial return for grain that had been thoughtfully sourced, planted, managed, and harvested.
For farms that are required to store grain on-farm for longer amounts of time than they traditionally have to meet the storage needs of newer culinary buyers who need grain doled out slowly over time, proper execution of post-harvest handling is the difference between having high-quality grain to sell at the end of the season or no crop at all. This farmer expressed that if they had had the kind of resource we're creating through this project to work from, they may have been able to bring a saleable crop of barley to market and gain significant revenue through doing so.