Research project aims to help smaller farms
PITTSTOWN (Jan. 15, 2018) — New York-based organic grain and vegetable grower Dr. Elizabeth Dyck is heading up a research project at the Rutgers Snyder Research Farm that could prove valuable to many of New Jersey’s smaller farmers.
She is doing the field work and research with assistance from Dr. Joe Heckman of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus. Heckman’s arena of expertise is soil fertility, while Dyck has spent the last decade growing organic grains.
Dyck is based on a 33-acre farm in Bainbridge, N.Y. about 30 miles north of Binghamton.
“I’ve been an organic grower for over 50 years and have worked with organic farmers for over 20 years,” Dyck said. She majored in English at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia.
“I began as a young person growing my garden organically and when I went back to school and got my PhD in Agriculture, I specialized in organic vegetable production,” Dyck added.
With three one-quarter acre plots at the Snyder Farm, Dyck and Heckman are testing various kinds of grains for their potential for increasing profits.
Next summer, “we’ll have a demonstration with harvesting 20 different value-added grains, including malting barley, ancient grains, hulless barley and oats, einkorn and emmers, and these grains are not only healthy, but they’re also fetching very high prices,” Dyck said.
“A vegetable farmer who has very little land can get the same benefits for the soil that you can from planting a cover crop, so here’s a way to also make money while you’re doing it,” she argued.
One area Dyck and Heckman are investigating is how einkorn [German word meaning one kernel,] performs as a nitrogen-fixing cover crop. A lot of data will be gathered next summer when various kinds of grain are harvested and soil fertility tests are performed. Grains like buckwheat and golden flax also command high prices, she said.
Dyck said einkorn is a very popular grain at the moment.
“Not much is known about how to grow einkorn so we’re looking at a fertility trial that uses the organic plot at Snyder Farm, and we’re also looking at how many pounds per acre should you plant? It shows you just how little we know about the crop. From working with Amish farmers in Pennsylvania, we’re finding they’re planting about 50 pounds an acre,” Dyck said, compared to most modern wheat is grown at 150 pounds per acre.
Also very hot right now are hulless oats from Canada, she said.
“You need to de-hull the oats to make human food out of them,” she said, noting she’s come across less expensive oat rollers, making the business of planting organic grains as cover crops profitable for the smaller farmers.
Once the oats are rolled, “you can then sell them for five and six dollars a pound,” she said.
“Einkorn is another crop you can plant and you don’t have to grow a lot of it to command some very high prices,” she stressed.
Dyck said she began focusing on small grains after years of growing organic vegetables because of their importance for agronomic sustainability.
“Any organic rotation should contain them for a number of different reasons and I started growing them in 2008,” she said, noting she’s also been growing other value-added crops like quinoa.
“I’m trying to find ways to grow a variety of quinoa in the Northeast, because it’s maladapted to our climate. But I’m not the only one working on this, I’m working with a couple of farmers on this. The point is, we have to look at diverse crops that are not only good agronomically but if farmers are to stay on their land they need to be highly profitable as well.”
Dyck, a leader in the field of organic grain growing, runs a website and information sharing network for grain growers at www.ogrin.org.
Dyck will be speaking at NOFA-NJ’s winter conference in late January at Douglass College, Rutgers University in New Brunswick and will likely be delivering a presentation on what’s she learned so far at the Vegetable Growers’ Association Conference in Atlantic City next February as well.