Growing and Marketing Ancient Grains in Wyoming
The state of Wyoming is a challenging place to farm due to low soil fertility and quality, saline and alkaline soils, arid conditions, high crop evapotranspiration demands, and isolation from markets. The soil, climate, geographical, and sociopolitical conditions that have historically limited crop diversity and adoption of more common sustainable farming practices like reduced tillage, cover crops, and water conservation.
Ancient grains are early predecessors of modern grain varieties and include spelt, emmer, and einkorn. The market for these grains has seen rapid growth over the last decade due to their nutritional qualities and flavor profiles. They are reported to require lower water and nutrient inputs than modern varieties and are expected to thrive in Wyoming.
Our work with ancient grains is part of the “Wyoming First Grains” project, a research and economic development effort of the University of Wyoming. There is strong institutional support for this effort and the response from growers, brewers, and commercial bakers has been very positive. Our goal is to leverage this support and enthusiasm and work with producers to build strong local markets for viable low-input grain crops that thrive on Wyoming farms. We will establish field trials on five farms and three research stations, host a series of workshops on baking and cooking with ancient grains, develop extension bulletins and a cooking video, and work with malters, brewers, and commercial bakers to develop markets.
This project will study the nitrogen and water demands of spelt, emmer, and einkorn; evaluate crop performance in three growing regions of the state, quantify costs and benefits associated with growing ancient grains in Wyoming; assess impacts of growing conditions on grain quality; develop local markets for cooking, baking, malting, and brewing with ancient grains; and support the establishment of associated industries.
- Identify best practices for growing einkorn, emmer, and spelt in Wyoming under a variety of conditions. April 2019 – August 2020.
- Foster grower innovation and learning by establishing field trials on six farms that include a combination of dryland, irrigated, conventional, no-till, and Certified Organic production systems.
- Determine the resource needs of einkorn, emmer, and spelt by measuring crop response to three nitrogen fertility rates on three University of Wyoming research stations under dryland and irrigated conditions.
- Identify sustainable production practices by compiling data from across all farm and research station trials on yield, grain quality, lodging, crop water and nutrient use, and cost of production.
- Communicate best practices for growing einkorn, emmer, and spelt grain in Wyoming. September 2019 – April 2021.
- Host summer field days where collaborating producers, researchers, producers, and consumers can share knowledge and engage in discussion.
- Present findings at winter grower meetings.
- Publish a UW Extension Bulletin, write state and regional articles, and create educational videos on growing ancient grains in Wyoming.
- Identify and develop regional markets for food and malt produced from einkorn, emmer, and spelt. August 2019 – April 2021
- Host workshops for consumers and culinary professionals on cooking and baking with ancient grains and incorporating these alternative grains into their products.
- Publish a UW Extension Bulletin and create consumer videos on cooking and baking with ancient grains.
- Work with Wyoming Malting to provide Neolithic® brand malted spelt, emmer, and einkorn along with promotional materials to Wyoming craft breweries.
Data from farm and research station trials will be compiled on yield, grain quality, lodging, water and nutrient use, and production costs. Information will be presented at grower meetings and field days and used to write a UW Extension bulletin. On-station research will include all crops, both years. On-farm trials will have flexibility in grain selection over the two years based on grower input. Four ancient grain varieties will be evaluated:
- Spring emmer var. Lucile from Montana State University Foundation Seed. This variety was grown at three UW research stations in 2018 and a top performing varieties in organic grain trials conducted by project collaborators Dr. Sorrels and Mr. Zwinger.
- Spring spelt var. CDC Origin from the University of Saskatchewan. This variety was grown at three University of Wyoming research stations in 2018 and performed well.
- Winter spelt var. Sun Gold was purchased from Byron Seeds in Indiana and is a high quality food grade spelt with a short height.
- Einkorn var. Stone Age was purchased from a grower in Nebraska who has successfully grown it as both a spring and fall planted grain.
Following UW field days in 2018 that highlighted emmer and spelt, several growers expressed interest in growing ancient grains. On-farm plots will range in size from 1 to 3 acres per variety and will include a combination of dryland, irrigated, conventional, no-till, and certified organic production systems (Plot diagram). Plot size will depend on seed availability and grower preference. The producers are committed to growing at least one of the ancient grain crops each year of this project, but can adjust plot size and cultivar in the second year based on their first year experience. The crop will be managed by the growers based on previous grain growing experience, recommendations from specialists, and coordination with Dr. Youngquist.
Pre-plant and post-harvest soil samples will be collected at two depths on all farms to help determine fertility needs and crop nutrient use. Soil water content will be measured before planting and after harvest of the dryland farm trials. Additionally, Dr. Youngquist will work with growers to gather observations and recommendations about the agronomic performance of their crops.
Small research plots will be established at three University of Wyoming research stations representing the major crop regions of Wyoming: Lingle (SAREC), Powell (PREC), and Sheridan (ShREC). These trials will provide detailed information on crop nutrient requirements and water use efficiency that is not practical with the on-farm trials. Performance of the three ancient grain crops will be compared to malting barley at PREC and wheat at SAREC and ShREC, under management of Dr. Eberle and a graduate student. The research stations will host a combination of four trials each year:
- A fall seeded dryland trial (ShREC and SAREC)
- A fall seeded irrigated trial (ShREC, SAREC, and PREC)
- A spring seeded dryland trial (ShREC and SAREC)
- A spring seeded irrigated trial (ShREC, SAREC, and PREC)
On-station trials will be replicated randomized complete blocks with 3 nitrogen by 4 crop treatments. Data on stand, heading date, head height, lodging, pest pressure, harvest date, yield, and grain quality will be taken at all three sites. Soil gravimetric water content will be measured in the dryland trials pre-plant and post-harvest. The trials at SAREC will include soil moisture sensors and will receive more intensive soil nutrient sampling than the other trials (3 depths to at least 24 inches). Intensive sampling will be conducted at SAREC because that is where Dr. Eberle and her research team are located.
Market development will focus on malters, brewers, bakers, and cooks. UWE nutrition educators will work with Dr. Youngquist to educate home cooks and culinary professionals about cooking and baking with ancient grains. Information will be shared across existing UWE platforms including a blog, podcast, social media, the Eat Wyoming website, and popular press articles. UWE will host workshops across the state on using whole grains (with an emphasis on ancient grains) for home and professional bakers.
Wyoming Malting is an established business that provides malted grains for craft and home brewers. They have committed to malting and co-branding grains from the Wyoming First Grains project. The first batch of emmer and spelt (grown by UW researchers in 2018) will be malted and distributed to four Wyoming breweries in early 2019 under the Neolithic® brand. Along with the malt, promotional materials (table tents and coasters) will be distributed to brewers at no cost for the first 2 years. Wyoming is home to 24 craft breweries and is ranked 8th in the country for craft breweries per capita. The malt and brewery market development will be managed by Mr. Foulke and no Western SARE funding is requested for this part of the project.
We worked with five commercial farms and three research farms to grow spelt, emmer, and einkorn in 2019. One of these farms was Certified Organic and one was committed to no-till practices.
Educational & Outreach Activities
All five of the farmers we are working with as well as the research station staff continue to learn about growing einkorn, emmer, and spelt. They have been very willing to share their experiences with the research team and with other farmers.
Our biggest challenges have been with weed control and harvest. As the farmers and research station staff learn about these grains, we compile this information. It will be used in future extension bulletins on the topic
This project has generated strong consumer interest across Wyoming. There have been many popular press articles, classes, and presentations. We have been giving away small amounts of flour as we can, and there is strong demand from home and small scale commercial bakers. Many of these home bakers have never tried “alternative” products before. We do not yet have a way to sell flour, but we are slowly building a waiting list.
The farmers we are working with have various levels of excitement. Two of them will likely continue growing some of these products after the project is over.