Thursday, April 1, 2010
Planting transitional hard red wheat
2 weeks ago we planted about 70 acres of hard red wheat. Hard red wheat has a higher protein content than soft white wheat, making it better for bread-baking. Soft white is good for pastries, tortillas, and all-purpose flour. Organic and transitional hard red wheat is also worth quite a bit more than soft white wheat. We purchased about 15,000 pounds of organic hard red wheat from a nearby farm that grows hundreds of acres of it each year. Before they acquired some hard red from North Dakota, hard red had not been grown in the valley in significant amounts in decades. The farm is called Stalford Seed Farms. They grew out the smallish amount they acquired and began to acclimatize the variety to Oregon's climate, which is important to maximize yield. Now even though we planted organic seed the crop we harvest will not be certified organic. The reason for this is the fields we are planting the wheat in are classified as "transitional." I should explain the difference between organic and transitional before I go any farther. To be certified organic a field must have had no conventional chemicals of any kind applied to it for a period of 3 years. 3 years from the date of the last chemical application that field is then eligible for organic certification. We only have 30 acres of certified organic ground this year. Most of the rest of the ground will be in first-year transition. Transitional crops are essentially farmed organically but they cannot be sold as "certified organic." This means you can't charge the kind of prices than organic crops fetch, but if you market the transitional crop right you can get a better price than you would for conventional crops.
We plant hard red wheat at a rate of about 105 pounds per acre. Since we planted 70 acres that means we already went through about 7350 pounds of seed. That's roughly a truckload. Once the weather clears up and the fields dry out a bit we plan to plant another 50-55 acres of hard red. We are hoping to harvest at least 1 ton of wheat per acre. That is a very conservative estimate when you realize that conventionally farmed white wheat can sometimes yield up to 4 tons per acre. Too bad the price of conventional soft white wheat is so low. At the current market price of $4.50 a bushel (bushel=60 pounds) soft white wheat can bring in about 450 dollars per acre. That's assuming a yield of 3 tons per acre. At the current market price hard red wheat grown transitionally can bring in about 1200-1700 dollars per acre. That's a no-brainer, right? Well, its not that simple. We are very limited on what we can put on the hard red to help it grow. Obviously all chemical fertilizers are out. So we are planning to use something called compost tea. Compost tea is exactly what it sounds like. A liquid brewed from solid compost. It is very good for the soil and the crops, and it is relatively inexpensive. We also plan to hit the hard red with either organic fish fertilizer or organic chicken manure. We'll see how that goes. Most of our hard red will be purchased by local bakeries. When I say local I mean anywhere in the valley from Portland to Eugene. Stay tuned...