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

2012 Annual Report for LNE12-318

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

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


Information on the project was distributed at the NOFA-NY events and at the Northern grain growers association meeting in March 2012. Pre-project surveys were distributed at field days in NY, VT and ME over the summer and are being collected online at the University of VT. The first advisory board meeting will take place February 19th 2013. A seed-sourcing guide has been started for popular varieties of wheat grown by organic farms. The first seed production training workshop has been scheduled and is being advertised. Crossing blocks for wheat, spelt, emmer and einkorn have been started in the greenhouse.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Learning and skill milestones:
1. 1000 farmers in ME, NY, PA and VT learn about the project through newsletters, information given out at field days and mailings (Summer and Fall 2012).

2. 60 farmers participate in seed production training and learn about the key production, processing and legal aspects of producing certified seed. 30 of these farmers indicate they will produce seed of project varieties (Winter 2012-13 and Winter 2013-14). By the end of the grant, 25 farmers produce organic seed that passes state certified seed requirements (Harvest of 2015).

3. 120 farmers attend selection workshops and 10 farmers establish successful trials with early-generation breeding populations (Summer 2013, Summer 2014).

4. 40 farmers participate in selection of early-generation breeding populations (Summer 2013, Summer 2014), and 10-20 of the most promising populations are advanced to larger on-farm selection trials (Summer 2015).

5. A data-sharing system for on-farm selection is established and used among states. A sustainable model of collaboration is developed so that on-farm selection can continue after the termination of the grant (throughout, to be completed before harvest 2015).

Performance Target:
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.


Information about the project and contact information for project personnel was given to farmers attending the Northern Grain Growers Association meeting in March and attendees at field days NY (Freeville, Willsboro), VT (Borderview, Bridport, New Haven, and ME (Stillwater). This will continue over the winter of 2013 via webinars for a related OREI project, and at the NOFA-NY conference in January, the Maine grain growers’ conference in February, the NGGA 2013 conference in March and the NOFA field crops field day in March. The survey has also been posted online at : and the project and survey will be advertised in winter newsletters.

The first seed production workshop is scheduled for Feb 28th 2013 and is currently being advertised to farmers in NY. This workshop will be video recorded and turned into a webinar series for farmers who cannot come to Ithaca, NY to attend the workshop in person. Sources of seed (organic and untreated) for varieties of interest to organic farmers have been compiled, revealing a distinct lack of choice and quality of seed for commercial organic production in the Northeast. Only two varieties of hard wheat (one winter and one spring) and one variety of soft winter wheat have seed available that are tested and labeled with NYS seed law. Some varieties are available from Canada but several farmers have complained about shipping and customs regulations that make purchases difficult. Other varieties are only available from non-local sources, adding transportation costs to the seed prices. There are a few other sources of unlabeled seed that has variable quality, often contaminated with weed seeds. At this point there are only unlabeled sources of spelt and emmer and no sources of commercial quantities of einkorn seed.

A crossing block was started in the greenhouse with winter wheat, spring wheat, winter spelt, spring emmer and winter einkorn varieties that are considered to have agronomic and quality attributes important for organic systems.

Seed treatments have been researched, however, no commercially available product or experimental treatment was deemed sufficiently promising to put in on-farm trials this year. A greenhouse study to screen different potential treatments and seed tests to determine the level of infection before planting is being planned instead, in collaboration with Gary Bergstrom in the department of plant pathology at Cornell University.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We have had favorable feedback from many farmers who are interested in participating in the project. Eighteen farmers have currently indicated that they would like to participate in on-farm selection trials when breeding populations are available. Many farmers are using farm-saved seed for varieties of interest because they can get a small quantity but not commercial quantities. Several have complained about weed seed contamination in purchased seed and that the selection of varieties is limited. Many are selling wholesale and may be able to benefit from increased retail or seed sale options.


Dr. Julie Dawson
Postdoctoral research associate
Cornell University
417 Bradfield Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072551197
Phil Atkins
New York Seed Improvement Project
103C Leland Lab
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072559869
Dr. Elizabeth Dyck
Founder and Coordinator
1124 County Rd 38
Bainbridge, NY 13733
Office Phone: 6078956913
Dr. Heather Darby
Associate Professor of Agronomy
278 S. Main Street
St. Albans, VT 05478
Office Phone: 8025246501
Dr. Ellen Mallory
assistant professor and extension specialist
University of Maine
495 College Avenue
Orono, ME 04469
Office Phone: 2075812942
Dr. Michael Davis
Farm Manager
48 Sayward Lane
Willsboro, NY 12996
Office Phone: 5189637492