Northeast Organic Wheat conducted a four-year participatory research and education program to increase the genetic diversity and productivity of wheat in northeast organic systems, through on-farm breeding/selection of landraces, farmer workshops, and local market partnerships. Our goal is to increase the sustainability, climate resilience and profit from improved wheat varieties better adapted to Northeast organic conditions for end-use in artisan products.
A working group of organic farmers, wheat breeders, extension, millers and bakers identified overall goals and methods to trial promising world-wide landraces. Farmers conducted on-farm trials and selected the superior wheat populations for traits contributing to yield, disease resistance and quality in organic systems. Criteria included: height for weed competition, yield as measured by grain weight per plant, health as an indicator of resistance to local diseases and resilience to weather extremes. Flour was evaluated for nutritional value, loaf volume and flavor.
As a result of four annual conferences and training events reaching over 350 participants, educational materials, technical assistance and dissemination of the improved landraces by provided by this project, over 112 farmers received seed samples, at least 24 growers conducted on-farm trials, and 75 gardeners trialed and selected the landraces on their organic fields. Farmers received technical assistance in organic wheat management for at least 1500 acres in organic wheat rotation. This has resulted in at least 24 farmers triaing one or more of the 8 improved landrace populations and at least 75 gardeners multiplying and selecting landraces. Over a three year period our improved winter wheat landraces equaled, and some surpassed, the yield of the modern cultivars in organic field trials.
We disseminated our methodologies, improved landrace genepools and results to researchers, cooperative extension, organic farmers, and helped foster regional market linkages with millers and bakers. Our program stimulated regional interest in landrace wheat, emmer and einkorn. Producers gained access to new markets, including the New York City Green Market, artisan bakeries such as Trukenbrod, VT, Wheatberry, MA and Wild Hive, NY, and fine restaurants such as Chez Nous, Lee, MA and the Gramercy Tavern, NYC. Improved organic, locally adapted varieties and our methods are now available to Northeast growers. Materials produced include an educational guidebooklet on ‘Grain Husbandry’, a scientific poster ‘Increasing Wheat Biodiversity, a paper on ‘Evolutionary Wheat Breeding’ and educational materials on how to cross wheat, ancient wheats and heritage wheats. These are available online for researchers, growers and extension throughout the Northeast. This project represents a community-based approach to strengthen our NE regional grain supply.
a) Increase Genetic Diversity: Core breeder-extension-farmer-baker team identified key selection goals, established at least one experimental trial plot per state to increase genetic diversity using genepools, elite landraces genotypes, and superior modern cultivars,
?b) Training: Four annual regional conferences were conducted, with supporting field days at our demonstration sites in Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York. 60 participating farmers and 125 gardeners were trained in on-farm wheat trialing and selection in organic systems.
?c) On-Farm Trials: Of 120 growers who participated in the program, 24 growers trialed new grain genepools on over 1,000 organic acres, resulting in increased yield, quality, sustainability and profit from improved genepools adapted to organic systems. Of the 60 trained, at least 24 will trial and select grains, and use promising wheats as the basis of enhanced direct market partnerships with local bakers.
?d.) Utilization: 24 farmers, 12 artisan bakers and a laboratory cooperated in selecting for wheat quality by conducting flour quality and taste-tests.