“Growing Grains on a Small Farm” provided hands-on instruction on small-scale grain production and assisted producers in developing markets for locally-produced grain, accessing scale-appropriate equipment and finding information on disease–resistant varietals suitable for organic and low-input production.
Our objectives were to support producers interested in growing grain for the first time and assist farmers who were already growing grain to become more efficient and network with each other.
Our target goal was ten producers participating in the class series.
Many farming communities in the U.S. have lost their ability to produce and process grain. For example, in Oregon eighty years ago, 41 varieties of wheat were grown on a million acres. Small farms grew wheat. Today, there is much less wheat, and what is grown is mostly produced on the large commodity scale, such as the bigger farms in the Klamath basin. Wheat is still Oregon’s fifth largest commodity crop, but 85% of it is exported, mostly to Pacific Rim countries. In Southwest Oregon, there are more bakers than wheat growers. Artisan bakers are eager to purchase locally-produced wheat. One challenge for organic growers is the misconception that in order to achieve high protein levels in wheat suitable for artisan breads, a farmer must apply synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.
In the last century, small farms grew grain for their homesteading needs and livestock feed, but much of small-scale production knowledge and infrastructure has been lost. Increased consumer demand for locally-produced food, high feed costs, desire for self-sufficiency and enterprise diversity have led to renewed interest in small-scale grain production.
January through October, 2010 we held a series of six classes on producing grains on a small farm. The course material included demonstration of equipment, production techniques for each phase of the growing season (varietal selection, field prep, seeding, harvesting), as well as marketing networks and equipment-sharing cooperatives. The first class brought together brewers and bakers with farmers. The panel, comprised of bakers, brewers, a chef and representatives from the local flourmill, talked about pricing, quality control, storage and other potential obstacles. The classes that followed each took place on local farms during the growing season.
In addition, there was a field trial component, whereby three producers were contracted to grow different wheat varietals (heritage and modern). The Wheat Lab in Portland analyzed the grain for protein, ash and falling numbers. We compiled the data into a graph showing the performance of different varietals.
The class was very popular; we doubled the number of maximum participants in each field day in order to meet producer demand. One hundred and twenty-six people attended the six classes. Some participants were not farmers; some classes included end–users of grain products and aspiring farmers. Small Farms continues to receive calls from producers eager to grow grain for the first time. To meet their needs, we taught a “Wheat 101” class in February 2011 and covered the basics of starting a wheat enterprise. Thirteen producers attended this one–time class.
In addition, Small Farms staff has partnered with the Ashland Food Co-op and The Rogue Initiative for a Vital Economy in creating panel discussions on locally produced grain.
As a result of the class, seven producers plan to grow grain for the first time next season and four producers are expanding their grain operations and are collaborating with others in an equipment-sharing working group facilitated by Small Farms. This group will continue to meet with assistance from Small Farms to explore forming a LLC to reduce costs and share production equipment.
Another producer has made enough contacts within the class participant group to start a custom field prep and combining service. Media coverage of the class led to several donations of equipment; one producer is planning to purchase a mill and offer his farm as a central grain processing facility.
Educational & Outreach Activities
We provided each class participant with a resource binder. We also created a grain webpage; all binder resources are included on the webpage.
Areas needing additional study
More trialing of wheat varieties varietals is necessary. These trials represent very small plots grown under row–crop field conditions where nitrogen content is higher than fields likely to be relegated to grain production. Larger blocks planted in fields that simulate larger–scale enterprise production would be useful. In addition, one season does not give an accurate picture of any one varietal’s protein performance, as annual fluctuations will occur.