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USDA funds $2.3M study of organically growing spelt, emmer, einkorn

To enhance the market value of such organically grown grains such as heritage wheat, emmer, spelt and einkorn, Cornell has received $2.3 million over four years from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

"The project will specifically evaluate how well suited [these grains] are for growing in organic systems and assess these crops' desirable grain and baking characteristics, including flavor and nutritional quality," said Mark Sorrells, professor of plant breeding and genetics, who directs the project.

"Small-grain crops provide multiple benefits to organic systems," Sorrells continued. "They protect and improve the soil, supply organic matter, scavenge nutrients, serve as break crops to dicotyledonous crops [flowering plants that have a pair of leaves, or cotyledons, in the seed embryo] and provide an important niche for legumes in the cropping system."

"However, grain crops are often underutilized because of their relatively low economic value. This project aims to add value to organic wheat and specialty grain crops, substantially increasing their production and enhancing the diversity and sustainability of organic farms."

The project involves researchers from Pennsylvania, New York and North Dakota as well as the farmer organizations Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, the Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society and the Greenmarket of New York City, and farmers, millers, bakers and chefs.

The researchers will:

Project outreach will emphasize information exchange among farmers, processors, bakers and others and, through collaboration with eOrganic, expand dissemination of project-generated information through Web-based reports and videos, webinars and webconferences.

Co-project directors include Michael H. Davis, research associate at the Cornell University Agriculture Experiment Station, and researchers at Pennsylvania State University, Oregon State University, North Dakota State University Agriculture Experiment Station and the Organic Growers' Research and Information-Sharing Network.

Since the late 1990s, U.S. producers are increasingly turning to certified organic farming systems as a potential way to decrease reliance on nonrenewable resources, capture high-value markets and premium prices, and boost farm income, reports the USDA. Today more than two-thirds of U.S. consumers buy organic products at least occasionally, and 28 percent buy organic products weekly.

The grant was one of 23, totaling $19 million, announced Oct. 25 to research and extension programs working to help organic producers and processors grow and market high-quality organic agricultural products.

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Joe Schwartz