Field day focuses on organic, niche grains
PITTSTOWN – Organic wheat growers and those interested in growing niche grains gathered at Rutgers’ Snyder Research Farm June 26 to see many varieties up close and talk with researchers including Dr. Elizabeth Dyck of Bainbridge, N.Y.
Dyck collaborated with Rutgers professor Dr. Joseph Heckman on this wheat growing project and Heckman in turn worked with Adrian Hyde and others in administration at NOFA-NJ to get the word out to smaller organic farmers that wheat can be a way to better profits on very small plots of land.
Dyck, has been growing grain and vegetables organically for nearly 50 years. She has spent much of the last two decades growing organic wheat at her family’s farm in New York State.
“We have discovered that barley can be tricky to grow in New Jersey and New York State,” Dyck said while leading a tour of about 50 inquisitive farmers and organic gardening enthusiasts through plots of different types of wheat that Heckman and his students planted last year.
“Most barleys have a hull, but this one doesn’t,” she pointed out, alluding to a second part of the field day when different low-cost machines for processing various types of wheat were demonstrated.
“You always want to grow what you know you can sell,” Dyck noted. Pointing at red fife, she said it was known for years as the quality bread wheat. Other wheat varieties field day attendees looked at included eincorns, black emmer, Appalachian white, hard red, white wheat, buckwheat, and other types of wheat grown in France that are now being grown in the United States.
One veteran wheat grower from Pennsylvania in attendance that day pointed out that awns, the little spikes that come on top of the heads of wheat, stick deer in the nose. So deer tend to avoid eating things planted behind a row or two of wheat with awns prominently displayed.
Foodies want to have these diverse older types of wheat, Dyck said.
“The bottom line is if you can establish a heritage variety on your land and get some publicity, it’s money in the bank because people are interested,” she said.
The various types of wheat at the Snyder Research plots vary in terms of ease of de-hulling and differ in baking characteristics as well.
“There is a huge market for raw, rolled oats,” Dyck said. She also displayed some hull-less oats, which tolerate heat a bit better. She stopped the crowd at a plot of purple, hull-less barley.
“Anything that’s purple always attracts customer attention,” she said. Her enthusiasm for wheat and oats was evident as the group made their rounds through test plots Heckman had planted. She got everyone laughing at several points during the tour.
“This is red fife grown in the spring, still struggling because of [cold, raw, rainy] conditions here this spring. But when grown properly, it can have 13 to 15 percent protein. It’ll knock your socks off.
“If I had to recommend any hard red spring wheat for people to grow right now, I’d recommend this one, glenn, it comes out of North Dakota. If you plant it, it will grow,” she said, noting it needs to be planted early.
“Bakers are very interested in higher proteins,” she said. While some types of high-protein wheats can be harder to grow, it can be well worth it come harvest time, provided one has knowledgeable buyers.
More field days and educational events are planned for Snyder Research Farm and other venues around the Garden State. The projects will go on for at least another year, Dyck said.
“We’re going to continue having these educational events so smaller farmers can get up and running and make money.”
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