Long-lost varieties of wheat may offer a good alternative to modern wheat on low-input farms, but harvesting can be a challenge, crop trials in Pembrokeshire have shown.
Only 9 percent of Wales’ farmland is currently used for arable production and most of it is used for growing modern cereals.
But farro grains, including starch and small spelled, and other varieties that come under the heirloom and heirloom label are now being tested in organic, minimum-tillage farming systems with funding from the European Partnership for innovation (EIP) Wales.
These varieties have been pushed to the fringes of agriculture for hundreds of years by higher yielding, gluten-rich wheats.
However, a combination of the growing demand from artisan bakers and their suitability for organic and low-input production systems, means that there is an interest in reintroducing grain diversity to Welsh fields.
The results of the EIP’s spring and winter seeding trials will help inform future production.
Farming Connect recently held an open house at one of the trial farms, Caerhys, near St Davids, to allow potential growers to see side-by-side comparisons of plots planted with modern wheat, mulika and with old seed varieties.
Some have been underseeded with clover and there are also intercrops with beans.
Henny Lowth of the Biological Research Center, a researcher on the project, told participants that traditional bearded April spring wheat performed as well as mulika for yield in the first year of the study and outperformed it. in terms of protein content and specific weight of organic matter. conditions.
As expected, mulika outperformed bearded April in the conventional system.
Where the heirloom varieties performed best was in weed control – bearded April was the most suppressive, Ms. Lowth said.
However, the accommodation with the spelled and the April bearded was quite important.
The lodging index, which measures stem curvature and therefore ease of harvest and yield, was the highest for both under the conventional cropping system.
Ms Lowth said small spelled offers an opportunity for crop diversification, but its overall performance and difficulty in accessing processing facilities such as dehullers limit its potential.
Levels of fungal disease septoria were generally similar in all cultures, but there was a higher incidence of yellow rust in April bearded.
Seed rates were shown to have little effect on crop yield, but there was a slight tendency for higher yield from higher seed rates under organic growing conditions.
Ms Lowth said there were obstacles to successful cultivation of heirloom varieties, including a lack of machinery and infrastructure needed for shelling; seed quality can also be a problem.
“Much of the seed is not commercially available, therefore a large part has to be exchanged or kept at home,” Ms. Lowth explained.
Gerald Miles grows Caerhys and is excited about the future of heirloom grains in crop rotations.
He hoped that the trials would result in the production of more of these crops across Wales.
“Artisanal bread is now very popular, I would like every consumer in Wales to have the opportunity to eat this bread,” he said.
The trials will continue for a third year and once completed the results will be disseminated to the agricultural industry.