On the first official day of summer, a crowd gathered in the barnyard of Rogers Farmstead in Berlin, Vermont. The topic was to learn the ins and outs of small grain growing and processing from beginning farmers Nate and Jessie Rogers. This event was the first in a series on grain production offered in collaboration by the UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program and NOFA-VT, sponsored by King Arthur Flour.
The Rogers started their farm in 2012. “We started growing with the intent of getting to human food,” said Nate, “Our plan was for our first crops to be used for chicken feed.” The business has changed in these past few years; thanks in part to fellow farmers, and support organizations like NOFA-VT, UVM, and the Northern Grain Growers Association.
Currently, Nate and Jessie grow 60 acres of hard red winter wheat, 10 acres of hulless oats, an acre of spelt, and buckwheat, in addition to a small raw milk dairy and yogurt operation. They sell 95% of their wheat crop to Elmore Mountain Bread, a wood-fired micro bakery in Elmore, Vermont. Elmore Mountain Bread buys the wheat berries and mills them into flour using their own custom-built mill.
Asked about the challenges to starting their farm, Nate said, “Equipment, equipment, equipment!” Access to and the cost of purchasing the basic equipment needed to produce a grain crop was daunting, but a grant from the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative helped.
Nate reviewed the equipment they’ve acquired to date; he started with tillage tools necessary to prepare the seedbed for planting, including a moldboard plow, discs and spiked tooth harrow, not to mention a tractor to pull all of these implements.
After the seedbed is prepared, the Rogers use a grain drill to plant the seed, although, Nate added, it’s possible to broadcast the seed but you risk spotty stands if you don’t use something like a seed roller to increase seed-to-soil contact.
The next necessary piece of equipment for grain growing is the combine. Nate purchased their combine from Michigan; he mused that the cost of shipping was almost as expensive as the machine itself!
As for postharvest equipment, Nate stressed the importance of drying grain down to below 14% moisture necessary for proper storage. They use a refurbished grain drier and grain storage containers. Grain cleaning equipment, another crucial tool in grain production, and the flour mill complete the equipment list.
Even with doing everything “right,” Nate said, “You can end up an unsalable product if the wheat doesn’t meet basic quality standards, the most challenging in this ever changing climate, is DON levels.” DON or deoxynivalenol is a mycotoxin produced by the fungus Fusarium graminearum under cool and wet conditions; the FDA has a 1 ppm DON limit for wheat for human consumption. Nate stressed the importance of identifying and growing Fusarium resistant varieties like the Redeemer winter wheat he currently grows.
The workshop ended with a stop at the NOFA-VT pizza oven for some freshly baked pretzels — yum!
For more about grain production in the Northeast, the cereal quality testing lab, and our latest grains research reports, check out the Northwest Crops and Soils website, www.uvm.edu/extension/cropsoil, and the Northern Grain Growers Association website, www.northerngraingrowers.org.