Friday, October 1, 2021

Report on First Year of Growing Hard Red Spring Wheat

 With all of the organic wheat delivered to Ardent Mills, in Mankato, MN, I have enough information to recap our first year growing food grade organic wheat.

One of the questions we had in early spring is where, assuming we could meet the buyer's specifications, we could sell the wheat. After making some phone calls I found several interested buyers. They all said that as a first step I needed to get the wheat harvested and in a grain bin with a fan blowing on it. Once it had dried down I sent out three pound samples to prospective buyers. I also sent a sample to Illinois Crop Improvement, who I paid to conduct "independent" tests: test weight, moisture, vomitoxin levels, protein, and falling number.

Falling Number is a basic test for wheat and flour. The falling number instrument analyzes viscosity by measuring the resistance of a flour and water paste to a falling stirrer. Falling number results are recorded as an index of enzyme activity in a wheat or flour sample and the results are expressed in time as seconds. 

A high falling number (for example, above 300 seconds) indicates minimal enzyme activity and sound quality wheat or flour. A low falling number (for example, below 250 seconds) indicates substantial enzyme activity and sprout-damaged wheat or flour.

The level of enzyme activity in wheat and flour measured by the Falling Number Test affects product quality. Yeast in bread dough, for example, requires sugars to develop properly and therefore needs some level of enzyme activity in the dough. 

Too much enzyme activity, however, means that too much sugar and too little starch are present. Since starch provides the supporting structure of bread, too much activity results in sticky dough during processing and poor texture in the finished product. 

If the falling number is too high, enzymes can be added to the flour in various ways to compensate. If the falling number is too low, enzymes cannot be removed from the flour or wheat, which results in a serious problem that makes the flour unusable.

 The numbers on the tests looked good, exceeding the minimum of 14% protein, a test weight of more than 59 lbs/bushel, less than 1 ppm (part per million) of vomitoxin, and a falling number higher than 250 seconds. Had any of the numbers been below the standard, the wheat would have been sold as animal feed, which brings a much lower price.

(Click on image to make it bigger.)

I agreed on a price with Ardent Mills based on the the sample I sent to them. We harvested the wheat on August 14-16th. After it was trucked to a bin, I ran the fan in the grain bin for about 4 weeks, drying the wheat down to 12.5%. I hired a trucker to take the three loads, a total of 160,000 lbs, or 2600 bushels, to the mill in Mankato, MN. 

After the wheat was harvested we disc-ripped the ground to break up a foxtail inducing hard pan layer, pulling up a lot of big rocks.


 Following that I drilled in a cover crop of radish, turnip, and winter peas. Next year the wheat ground will be in soybeans.

It was a successful first year growing wheat. I've only skimmed the surface in this recap - lots of invaluable experience that stays with me for now, as I'm unwilling to put the effort into writing it all down.

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