Northeast Organic Wheat; an extension program for on-farm crop improvement in organic systems and local market partnerships
Northeast Organic Wheat will train farmers in the knowledge and practical skills of on-farm trialing and selection to re-invigorate superior landraces, to adapt diverse wheat populations to NE organic systems, to identify superior modern wheat varieties best adapted to organic systems, and to lay the foundation to develop new uniform varieties with consistent quality for artisan bakers. We will disseminate our methodologies, improved wheat genepools and results to researchers, cooperative extension, organic farmers, and foster regional market linkages with millers and bakers. This project represents a community-based approach to strengthen our NE regional grain supply.
Rationale: Organic farmers in the Northeast have minimally benefited from the yield increases of modern wheat cultivars bred for conventional systems with agrochemical protectants, in weather and soil conditions vastly different from ours. Nutrition and flavor are not key traits in modern cultivars but are a primary concern for value-added organic markets. Although farmers are the original breeders, plant breeding is a lost art for today’s farmers. There are no public wheat breeders in New England.
Performance Target – Of 120 growers who participate in the program, 60 will trial new grain varieties on over 1,000 organic acres, resulting in increased yield, quality, sustainability and profit from improved genepools adapted to organic systems. Of the 60, at least 24 will trial and select grains, and use promising wheats as the basis of enhanced direct market partnerships with local bakers.
‘Northeast Organic Wheat’ will conduct a participatory organic wheat trialing and selection program to address Northeast growers’ unmet needs for varieties adapted to our local conditions and markets. A working group of organic farmers, wheat breeders, extension, millers and bakers will identify goals, trial promising world-wide varieties, and select the superior wheat populations for traits contributing to yield, disease resistance and quality in organic systems. Criteria will include: 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 will be evaluated for nutritional value, loaf volume and flavor.
a) Increase Genetic Diversity: Core breeder-extension-farmer-baker team wil identify key selection goals, establish at least one experimental trial plot per state to increase genetic diversity using genepools, elite landraces genotypes, and superior modern cultivars,
?b) Training: Of 120 participating farmers, at least 60 are trained in on-farm wheat trialing and selection, and strengthen community seed networks by exchange of germplasm and practical breeding and wheat systems knowledge and skills.
?c) On-Farm Trials: A total of 24 organic farmers establish trials of promising varieties to multiply and screen on their own organic farms.
?d.) Utilization: 24 farmers, 12 artisan bakers and a laboratory cooperate in selecting for wheat quality by conducting flour quality and taste-tests.
First, second and third year accomplishments that build towards performance targets include:
ACTIVITIES – TARGET 1 – INCREASE GENETIC DIVERSITY
SUMMARY: Our objective is to increase the genetic diversity of wheat to develop populations that are well-adapted to organic soils, with extensive root systems and sturdy tall stalks that compete with weeds with robust tolerances to the increasingly unpredictable climate, and resistance to diseases such as fusarium. In addition, we are investigating how increasing whole farm diversity through rotation and intercropping may enhance weed and disease suppression.
INTERNATIONAL: Our trial material was generously contributed by international partners that include: the Hungarian Cereal Genebank, the German Biodynamic Cereal Breeding Program, Scandanavian grain researcher Dr. Anders Borgen, the Georgian Organic Farmers Association, the French Peasant Seed Network, and traditional farmers in the Mideast and Europe.
Year 1 – We trialed 122 spring wheats and 36 winter wheats.
Year 2 – We planted 72 heritage winter wheat varieties.
Year 3 – We planted trials of mixtures and individuals of the 15 best winter varieties in three randomized replications in beds 100 x 4 feet, and are screening 40 new varieties. We are conducting four experiments as follows:
1. Seeding rate trials at three different densities (6, 8, 12 inches apart),
2. Mixture trials to evaluate if single varieties or mixtures have better yield and disease resistance. The mixtures have similar maturity dates, but vary in height.
3. Are rare wheat species, such as einkorn, emmer and carthlicum, more resistant to fusarium than the bread wheats in our collection?
4. Rotation, intercropping and undersowing to enhance weed control and fusarium suppression.
Year 1-2: Assessment: To assess the needs for grain production for local markets, interviews were conducted with organic growers and artisan bakers interested in increasing local grain production. Results indicated that the market demand far surpasses the local supply, and that barriers include lack of commercial sources for locally-adapted cold-hardy wheat varieties with good disease and lodging resistance, minimal local processing and milling capacity and pest-free cold storage facilities for grains or flour. Bakers are interested in heritage wheats due to their reputation for superior flavor and historic value, but have difficulty sourcing locally-grown grains and look forward to increased availability.
Year 2 – In addition to conducting second year bread wheat (T. aestivum) trials, we planted emmer and einkorn breeding lines collected from the Hungarian genebank, Germany and France to identify populations best adapted to New England. Year 1-2 (2008-2009): 36 heritage winter wheat varieties in four replicated sites were planted in Fall, 2008 and 2009: at the MOFGA farm in Unity, Maine, the UMass Organic Research Farm with Ruth Hazzard, SIT Farm, Brattleboro, VT. and Dancing Sheaves Farm, Colrain, MA. Most of the varieties were obtained from the Vavilov Institute in Russia, collected by Nikolai Vavilov, Russian plant explorer who collected rare world wheats early last century.
Harvest data attached. Our trials identified 18 heritage wheat varieties that yielded higher than the best yielding modern wheat, AC Maxine, grown in New England. Data was recorded for: yield, tillers per plant, heads per tiller, average seed per 10 typical heads, weight per 1,000 seeds, seed density and nutritional value (protein and key minerals)
Year 3 – We selected and planted the 15 most robust, highest yielding from last year’s trials for another round of replicated trials and multiplication, and planted 40 new Triticum varieties at our central site at UMass. We are evaluating seeding density, mixtures and fusarium resistance.
In Year 1 (2008): 122 spring wheat varieties and early progenitors were planted at our research and demonstration site at the MOFGA Common Ground farm in Unity, Maine spanning wild wheat, T dicoccon from Ethiopia to Italy and India, einkorn (T. monococcun) from France and Turkey, ancient biblical durums from the southern Fertile Crescent, bread wheat (T. aestivum) biodiversity from the Transcaucasus region where bread wheat evolved and related sub-species T. carthlicum. T. spelta. We discovered the 1800s Vermont-bred varieties from Cyrus Pringle, sent them to Heather Darby and Jack Lazor, and planted them in our trials. AC Barrie was planted as a control. In addition, 5 cooperating farmers planted small-scale spring trials, and 1 large-scale trial. 35 farmers planted small-scale winter wheat trials and grow-outs in the fall of 2008. The highest yielding and most disease resistance was Siberian Spring wheat, grownin 1800s Maine. The farmer-bred ‘Dylan’ from North Dakota, Cyrus Pringle’s Champlain (bred in 1870s Vermont), Canus, Marquis and Halychanka (progenitor of Red Fife collected in Galicia) performed well.
Year 2 -3 (2009-10): We planted winter wheat trials at MOFGA that replicated the trials at the University of Massachusetts.
Year 1 – We established a research site at the University of Massachusetts, and also trialed heritage and modern varieties with Crabapple Farm, Tevis Robertson, Chester, MA, and at the Cold Brook Farm in Wendel, MA. We contributed heritage varieties for trials with local bakers Wheatberry and Hungry Ghost Bakeries in the Pioneer Valley.
Years 2 and 3 (2009-10) Harvest data attached. Our trials identified heritage wheat varieties that yielded higher than the best yielding modern wheat, AC Maxine, grown in New England. Visit: growseed.org for full trial results for: yield, tillers per plant, heads per tiller, average seed per 10 typical heads, weight per 1,000 seeds, seed density and nutritional value (protein and key minerals). We are excited to report that we are selecting European varieties that out yield commercially available wheat cultivars, and that have greater fusarium resistance, and good winter hardiness. Lodging tends to be a concern, and needs to be bred out, since the older varieties were bred in lower fertility that modern fertility levels.
Year 1 (2008): Our discovery of the work of Cyrus Pringle, a late 1800s VT plant breeder, has been excitedly received by Vermonters. We sent samples of Pringle’s wheat seed to Heather Darby and Jack Lazor. We sent Heather the same set of landrace wheats that we sent to NY-NOFA.
Year 2-3 (2009-10): We established a winter wheat trial site at the SIT Farm in Brattleboro, in cooperation with Steve Hed, SIT farm manager.
?In order to better understand the needs of organic grain growers and artisan bakers in New York State, questionnaires were distributed at baker and grower meetings. Results from questionnaires and additional telephone interviews indicate that very little acreage in the state is planted to common wheat; spelt has largely replaced wheat in organic grain rotations. However, due to the increasing demand for organic wheat and for locally produced food, interest in growing wheat is high among organic growers. Traits of most importance to growers include yield, good straw production, baking qualities, and disease and lodging resistance. Growers were interested in a broad array of wheat types, but particularly heritage wheat varieties (specifically Red Fife), spelt, and hard red spring and winter varieties. A subset of growers was primarily interested in emmer. Major constraints include difficulties in sourcing seed and lack of marketing infrastructure, local milling capacity, and storage and seed-cleaning and processing equipment. Bakers were also interested in a broad array of wheat, but particularly in hard red, hard white, and heritage varieties. Most were unfamiliar with spelt and emmer, but expressed interest in experimenting with them. Major constraints are the lack of locally grown wheat, the cost of flour, lack of local milling capacity (4 of the 13 bakers contacted had mills), and low storage capacity for flour (requiring weekly delivery). Potential demand for locally grown wheat is high: the majority of bakers indicated they could use over 1,500 lbs of flour a week.
Year 1 – 2008: Germplasm evaluation, 25 hard red spring wheat varieties (a mix of heritage varieties and lines from the Midwestern US, Canada, and Europe) were obtained for the project from the National Small Grains Collection. These were grown out in small plots in south central NY on the farm of the NOFA-NY coordinator of the project (Chenango County). Characterization and evaluation of this material is ongoing, and will be reported on at the wheat workshop to be held at the NOFA-NY annual winter conference in January 2009. This fall, small plots of 25 heritage winter wheat varieties and four emmer varieties (from the New York State heritage wheat collection and the National Small Grains Collection) were planted on the coordinator’s farm. In addition, a grower-cooperator in the Finger Lakes region (Yates County) grew out six emmer varieties obtained from the Carrington Research Center of North Dakota State University. The bulked material will be planted out in field-scale strip plots in spring 2009 for characterization and evaluation.
Year 2 – 2009: Results from the single-plot grow-outs of 20 heritage and modern soft white and red winter wheat varieties that were bred in New York are shown in an attachment (Table 1). Data from this trial and trials conducted at Cornell’s Willsboro Farm, combined with the results of tastings of bread and other baked goods, will be used by farmers and bakers to identify varieties, both heritage and modern (commercially unavailable), that will be grown out for larger-scale trialing, and potentially, commercial production.
Year 3 – 2010: The best performing varieties from the UMass trials were disseminated to Don Lewis, Alton Ernhart, Amber Waves and Klass Martins in NY for continued on-farm selection.
ACTIVITIES – TARGET 2: TRAINING, WORKSHOPS AND CONFERENCES
SUMMARY: Our program is based at the University of Massachusetts with an outreach strategy that builds on the UMass infrastructure and extension networks – in addition to partnerships with MOFGA and NOFA-NY. Our UMass-based program conducts annual farmer meetings and summer field days to tour our organic wheat trials that cover 2.5 acres.
In 2010, we participated in the EUPARPIA Organic Cereal Breeding conference held in Paris, Dec 3-5, 2010, presented our work, learned of organic cereal breeding updates, and strengthened cooperation through personal contact. See: eucarpia.org.
MOFGA coordinated a Wheat Conference in March, 2009, in which NOW (Eli Rogosa, Elizabeth Dyck, Klaas Martens, Mark Fulford and Canadian collegues) presented the NOW research for 87 farmer-participants.
The ‘Kneading’ conference in Maine hosted Maine Cooperative Extension, Mark Fulford, Glenn Roberts – ansonmills.com, Eli Rogosa, Jack Lazor and local farmers for workshops and discussions on how to increase local production.
NOW coordinated an Organic Wheat seminar in August, 2009 in Maine and Vermont with Dr. Anders Borgen, an organic wheat expert from Denmark. Anders is a European organic wheat researcher who reported to us on current organic wheat research in Europe. Elite heritage wheat were distributed from our trials. 47 farmers participated, plus 4 bakers and 3 Maine cooperative extension.
Every year a stunning display of NOW Wheat Biodiversity is exhibited at the Common Ground Fair, and the best varieties from our trials are disseminated to farmers and gardeners. See: growseed.org/education.html for photos.
Our central research site is located at the University of Massachusetts farm. In the summer each year we host an on-farm field day. Each year over 75 farmers have participated, toured and evaluated the wheat trials and have selected their own seed from the mature plants to plant on their own farms. Regional farmers will meet in March, 2011 to plan field days and our on-farm trialing network.
NOW coordinated a seminar intensive in August, Brattleboro, Vermont with Dr. Anders Borgen, an organic wheat expert from Denmark – agrologica.dk. Anders is a European organic wheat researcher who reported to us on current organic wheat research in Europe. Elite heritage wheat were distributed from our trials. 47 farmers participated.
Year 1 – 2008: To promote information exchange between growers, bakers, and consumers and to increase capacity for wheat production and processing, a field day was held in July in the Hudson Valley on the farm of a grower-cooperator (Dutchess County). The 85 participants viewed wheat production, seed-cleaning and milling techniques and tasted breads made from varieties currently grown at the farm. Bread made from a soft wheat variety was included in the tasting. Interest in using heritage soft white and red wheats, the traditional wheats used in bread-making in colonial New York, is rekindling. This could have a significant impact on wheat production in New York, since growing conditions are more conducive to soft rather than hard wheat production. Information sheets on organic wheat and spelt production and setting up a replicated wheat variety trial on-farm were written and have been disseminated to interested growers.
Year 2 –3 / 2009-10: To further information exchange between growers and end users, three winter workshops were held around the state: at Rochester, NY, as part of the NOFA-NY annual winter conference (48 participants), at Potsdam,NY, in collaboration with Garden Share (45 participants), and in Riverhead, NY (32 participants); During the summer, five field days were held: at Cornell’s Willsboro Farm (Willsboro, NY) to view the heritage variety trial and emmer landrace trial (29 participants), at Cayuga Pure Organics (Brooktondale, NY) to discuss wheat production and Farmer Ground Flour, the new milling operation owned by farmers (32 participants), at White Frost Farm (Washingtonville, PA) at an event co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture to view the integration of wheat production into an organic vegetable farm (48 participants), at Oxbow Organic Farm (Hunt, NY) to tour a highly diversified grain farm and view an array of cleaning and drying equipment (25 participants), and at Crimson Clover Farm (Bainbridge, NY) to hold a demonstration of techniques for small-scale wheat production and processing (16 participants).
ACTIVITIES – TARGET 3: ON-FARM SELECTION
SUMMARY: After three years of trials, we have identified and selected superior landrace populations and genepools, and are conducting replicated trials of our best material in multiple locations. We invite farmers to contact us for trial packets to select on their farms. We are selecting for the following linked traits:
– Complex linked disease resistances to fusarium and rusts,
– Height to compete with weeds
– Sturdy stalks that do not lodge under modern fertility regimes
– Robust tolerance to weather extremes of drought and heavy rainfall,
– Yield combined with baking quality, nutrition and flavor
Year 1 (2008-9) Of the 122 spring varieties trialed at the MOFGA site, about 30% of the highest yielding, most robust and disease resistant plants were harvested. Future multiplications will use this on-farm selected material. We decided to focus on winter wheats, which produce high yields and demonstrate greater weed competition. A trial replication of the 35 winter wheat varieties was established. We distributed 32 packets of winter wheat to growers at the MOFGA Common Ground Fair.
Our central research site is located at the University of Massachusetts farm. In 2010 we planted 2.5 acres of wheat trials: three replications of the best 15 varieties, 50 new varieties, and are conducting: seeding rate density and mixture trials. Each year we are saving seed from the dominant seed heads from healthiest plants that scored highest for: sturdy plant architecture, no lodging, number of tillers, robust overall plant growth, resistance to fusarium head blight and rusts, and fat, well filled seedheads. We harvest with a scissor or sickle (not with a combine) in order to carefully select. Six cooperating local Mass farms are conducting on-farm trials and selection.
Year 1 – 2008: A replicated trial of 21 heritage soft white and red winter wheat varieties developed in NY State was planted at the Cornell Willsboro Farm in northern NY (Essex County). Replicated strip trials of modern hard red winter wheat varieties were established on two farms: one in western New York (Erie County), the other in Northeastern Pennsylvania (Montour County). The five varieties trialed (3 per farm) were selected after consultation with the cooperating farmers, Canadian organic growers, and NOW colleagues. A field-scale demonstration of three of the varieties was also planted on a farm in western NY (Orleans County). In addition, small plot demonstrations of winter wheat varieties, both heritage and modern cultivars, were established on three farms and a community garden in central and eastern NY (Otsego, Madison, Schenectady, and Delaware Counties).
Year 2 – 2009; Data was collected from the on-farm trials established in fall of 2009; A replicated trial of three hard red winter wheat varieties, for example, showed no differences in yield (which averaged 56 bu/A) but significant differences in grain quality (see attachment Table 2. In spring of 2009, a hard red spring wheat trial was established on farm comparing two modern varieties with the heritage variety Red Fife. The Red Fife yielded as well as the modern varieties (an average of 34 bu/A) and had good grain quality (12.4 % protein, 337 seconds falling number) but was negatively affected by Fusarium. A trial comparing hard red winter varieties to Red Fife planted in the fall has also been established. Contact Elizabeth Dyck via NOFA-NY for details.
ACTIVITIES – TARGET 4: UTILIZATION
SUMMARY – We have identified ancient and heritage wheat species (ie: T. einkorn, T. emmer, T. carthlicum, T. timophevii and T. polanicum) and landrace T. aestivums that have commercially competitive yields, many that exhibit greater fusarium resistance than commercially available cultivars, however availability in limited, since we are bulking from small initial amounts. The introduction of under-utilized grain species involves development of new products, spanning flatbreads, malt, bagels and noodles as well as artisan breads. In years 3 to 4 our goal is to implement a market-based strategy for genetic conservation that will involve local teams of growers, bakers and schools in restoring, multiplying and baking with these little-known, locally-adapted, high quality species. We welcome cooperation in this ambitious task.
We are cooperating with valleymalt.com to investigate use of ancient grains for malt for local micro-breweries. Bakers will be provided with 5 lb samples of our best heritage bread wheat varieties to conduct baking trials and taste testing. We are trialing use of locally-grown ancient grains for noodles, shmurah matzah and artisan breads.
?Year 1 – 2008-9 Baking trials of ancient emmer and einkorn wheat was conducted with the Trukenbrod Bakery <growseed.org/trukenbrod.html>. Results of the tests indicated that emmer and einkorn have excellent potential to make a delicious artisan bread. John Melquist the baker reports: ‘In future trials we will keep careful notes about time, temp, and proportions and will try different methods, using a control of each recipe with AC Barrie for valuable info on how the different flours absorb water, and to compare extensibility and elasticity of each. The Tukenbrod goal is to eventually produce both a good flatbread that puffs up nicely, and a loaf that rises on a par with modern whole wheat bread.’ See: growseed.org/trukenbrod.html
NEW YORK – 2008-9-10
To help farmers and bakers assess the potential of New York to produce high quality wheat for baking, grain samples of farmers cooperating with the project were analyzed for protein content, falling number, and vomitoxin (the latter was essential to test given the widespread incidence of Fusarium in the 2009 season). The results of this testing show that New York organic growers can meet the quality standards set by bakers and millers, i.e., protein content for hard red varieties of 11-12.5%, falling numbers above 300 seconds, and vomitoxin below 1 ppm. Eighteen hard red spring wheat samples collected from seven farms across the state, for example, averaged 12.8% protein and 324 seconds in terms of falling number (see attachment Table 3). In terms of vomitoxin, 55% of the samples tested were below the suggested limit for vomitoxin. Growers have identified the need for improved management practices (including timely harvesting) and improved infrastructure for drying and cleaning grain to further improve and maintain grain quality.
Flour quality and taste testing of promising wheats identified through trialing were conducted in cooperation with Greenmarket (Council on the Environment of New York City) at the International Culinary Institute in New York City in which about 100 NYC-area bakers and growers attended.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
IMPACTS, CONTRIBUTIONS AND OUTCOMES
Breeding for Climate Resilience: Weather has a substantial influence on agroecosystem productivity. Wheat is sensitive to climate changes, so adaptability to weather extremes is a key desirable trait in our breeding program. Yield stability over years of fluctuating climate extremes has priority over the quantitative aspects of yield in any particular year. Enhancing the climate resilience in wheat involves increasing the genetic diversity within crop populations by planting varietal mixtures and genepools with greater buffering capacity, and selecting for robust plants with durable disease resistances in fields with greater disease pressures.
Adaptability of Ancient Wheats to Lower Fertility Organic Systems – The winter einkorn (T. monococcum) and emmer (T. dicoccon) performed better in the lowest fertility field, located in southern Vermont, whereas all other wheat varieties performed poorly. Einkorn, emmer and carthlicum exhibited the greatest resistant to fusarium. Ancient grains’ capacity to perform under stressed conditions is important as northeast farmers face increasingly an unstable climate. Einkorn, emmer and carthlicum have high protein content, make excellent breads, noodles and flatbreads, and have a richer flavor than modern wheats. Einkorn may be safer for some gluten allergies.
Observations: In northern New England and upper NY state, spring wheat tends to have more stable yields, however mid-New England favors winter wheat. This is consistent with European regions wherein Scandanavian regions tend to grow spring varieties, and mid-Europe, ie France, England and Germany tend to grow winter varieties. Therefore our UMass site is focusing on winter wheat.
We have found that:
– Heritage wheats tend to yield higher than the conventional wheats in organic systems, when using wider spacing than conventional rates than conventional dense spacing. Frost-seeding of low growing clover, when the ground still has frozen winter moisture, decreases weed pressures under wide spacing.
– Fall seeding dates effect the tillering to protein ration. Earlier seeding encourages more tillers. Later seeding encourages higher protein content. More research is needed on individual farms for site-specific recommendations.
– Fusarium can be reduced by growing a mustard covercrop, ie: Pacific Gold Mustard, immediately before sowing wheat.
Interest in locally grown bread is high among growers, bakers, and consumers. Feedback from growers and bakers indicates the project needs to focus on:
1) identifying/breeding, on-farm selecting and multiplying wheat types and varieties best adapted to local growing conditions and artisan markets,
2) building infrastructure for small-scale production, processing and delivery, and
3) fostering marketing partnerships and direct grower-consumer relationships.
We will continue to work intensively to characterize landraces and develop breeding lines and genepools for foundation seed quality, to involve more farmers in on-farm selection, to publish our results for wider dissemination, and will pilot new products to utilize our material. Our NE Heritage Grain Cooperative, managed by participating farmers, is striving to maintain high production standards for a local brand identity. We welcome interested NE growers and bakers to contact us to be involved.