Development of Local Small Grain Value Chains for Kentucky and the Mid-South

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2019: $232,669.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Kentucky
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Dr. David Van Sanford
University of Kentucky


  • Agronomic: barley, rye, wheat


  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    Farmers are hesitant to enter specialty grain production without proven markets, while food entrepreneurs are stymied in their development of regional small grain products due to lack of supply from farmers. A solution would improve economic sustainability for participating farmers and processors, improve environmental benefits via the double cropping system used in the South to produce specialty small grains, and engage consumers more with their food system.

    We seek to circumvent the chicken and egg paradox of specialty small-grain production by working with farmer and industry partners to create new value chains for baking, brewing, and distilling products made from Kentucky-grown wheat, malting barley, and rye. Our farm-to-loaf and farm-to-bottle objectives require agronomic, economic, and sociological approaches, and a blend of research, Cooperative Extension, and outreach activities. Research on small-grain, and in particular, malting grain, production in the Northeast and Northwest supported the emergence of craft beverage and artisan baking sectors. In the South, while Kentucky is renowned for its distilling heritage, there has been less development of malting grains to support our superlative spirits and rapidly expanding craft beverage sector. Preliminary Kentucky research demonstrated the viability of regionally adapted hard red winter wheat in artisan bread production. Demand is strong; in addition to consumer preferences, a growing number of contractually or legislatively obligated institutions (universities, hospitals, public schools, state parks) seek to purchase Kentucky farm-impact foods for their dining services.

    Through previous work, we identified growers, artisan bakers, flour millers, maltsters, brewers, and distillers with whom to partner, bu we likely just scratched the surface. We will perform a value chain mapping procedure that combines key stakeholder interviews, focus groups, enterprise budgeting, and market analysis to identify critical success factors for each market segment. These factors include grain quality characteristics, economic factors of production, logistic or technical considerations across value chain levels from the farm to the retailer, and consumer preferences. In parallel, we will conduct small-plot non-GMO agronomic trials to identify cultivars and breeding lines with sufficient agronomic fitness and superior flavor/malting/baking characteristics. Seed of superior breeding lines will be increased and provided to growers for pilot-scale baking, malting, brewing, and distilling trials. Production performance and sensory evaluation are components of the pilot product evaluations. The results will be shared with our network of partners through print and online media as well as Cooperative Extension programs and publications, industry and academic presentations and publications, and annual Grain Exchanges that will connect our farmer and industry partners with the wider community of interested farm and industry stakeholders. Participants in the Grain Exchanges will share experiences and final products. Speakers from regions with more developed local small grain value chains will share lessons learned. Relative to the existing commodity-oriented value chains, we intend the end results to be self-sufficient networks of farms and businesses that create new economic activity, use environmentally superior farming practices, and give people ways to feel socially connected and rewarded via the food system.

    Project objectives from proposal:


    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.