Farm-based selection and seed production of varieties of bread wheat, spelt, emmer, and einkorn adapted to organic systems in the Northeast

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $196,743.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Mark Sorrells
Cornell University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: spelt, wheat


  • Education and Training: networking, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: field monitoring/scouting, genetic resistance, prevention, sanitation
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities

    Proposal abstract:

    To take full advantage of increasing market opportunities for locally produced organic grains, farmers need reliable supplies of seed for varieties adapted to their farming conditions. There is growing interest in producing bread wheat, spelt, emmer and einkorn in the Northeast, however there are very few sources of organic seed and most varieties of these crops are either developed for conventional systems or for different ecological regions such as the Midwestern or Western US and Canada. This project proposes to address these related problems by providing training in seed production to organic growers in New England, NY and PA, and by starting the process of developing varieties adapted to organic agriculture in this region through on-farm selection with experienced organic farmers. Information from ongoing projects evaluating existing varieties under organic conditions in the northeast and discussions with farmers will be used to determine priorities for seed production and deciding on parents for developing breeding populations. Certified seed production workshops for organic growers will be conducted in the first two years of the project, and technical support will be provided to farmers interested in producing organic certified seed of varieties identified as top performers for agronomic performance and quality in previous Northeast SARE and OREI projects. Organic seed treatments reported in the literature for the control of Tilletia spp. will also be tested on-farm with interested growers, as this is a major challenge to seed production in organic systems. Breeding populations will be developed in the first year by the research team at Cornell by crossing varieties decided on in discussions with participating farmers. Crosses will be made among bread wheat, spelt, emmer and einkorn varieties the first year, and seed increases will be done the first year for bread wheat and spelt and the first and second year for emmer and einkorn. These lines will be moved to organic research station and on-farm trials for selection in the second and third years. Selection workshops with growers will be held in the second and third years of the project to discuss criteria for selection, provide training in evaluation of small plots and segregating populations and collect growers observations of the breeding lines in the project. Quantitative data collection and the observations of host farmers will be used to advance promising lines to larger scale trials by the end of the project.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Twenty-five organic farmers become certified seed growers, and an additional 25 farmers meet the food-grade market quality standards producing at least 50 tons of certified seed and 160 tons of food grade grain of superior varieties (including heritage wheat, spelt, emmer, einkorn) thereby increasing the net value of the grain they produce by an average of $0.15/lb, $300/ac, or $15,000 total, and increasing the net value of organic food grains grown from this seed versus current sources by an average of $100/ac over 500 acres in the Northeast through higher yields and quality. Breeding lines of wheat, spelt, emmer and einkorn are developed and selected on-farm, so that at the end of the project 10-20 promising lines of each are included in larger-scale selection trials in each state.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.