FARMINGTON — Amber waves of grain rustled in the wind Wednesday at a demonstration field of winter wheat grown this year on the Farmington Falls Road.

The field, planted last September by Bussie York and now about ready for harvest, is a test field included in the Local Bread Wheat project, a collaborative effort between Maine and Vermont university cooperative extensions to identify the varieties of wheat that will grow well in northern New England.

Maine used to grow wheat, and there is interest in reinvigorating that growth to provide wheat flour for bread and other local foods, David Fuller, extension professional for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said.

Fuller organized a meeting of wheat growers and those interested to discuss the growth potential and visit the demonstration field on two acres owned by William Crandall.

“Interest in all things local is really taking off, and the fans of local foods are really into the bread,” Fuller said.

When York expressed interest in growing wheat, Fuller introduced him to Ellen Mallory, an agronomist for the UM Cooperative Extension who is working with the Vermont Cooperative Extension on a four-year study on revitalizing food-grade grains. The study is in its second year.


Supported by a $1.3 million organic agriculture research and extension initiative grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the study is responding to an increasing demand for locally grown bread wheat.

That interest is creating a new crop of opportunities for Maine growers.

“If we can just figure out how to fit it into the crop rotation, it has a lot of potential,” Mallory said.

York has tried growing wheat in the past along with the soybeans, oats and barley he now grows.

Planted Sept. 20, the winter wheat lived under the snow over the winter, York said. Starting with a harrowed field and a little added cow manure and nitrogen, the wheat has grown strong and tall with no other effort, he said.

While other grain crops have fallen from recent hard-hitting rains, the wheat still stands tall, awaiting harvest in a couple weeks, he said.


Maybe the best part, the two-acre site was prone to excessive weeds but where the wheat grows there are no weeds.

The winter wheat is low maintenance, very competitive with weeds and requires no spring work, Mallory said.

There is a potential for Fusarium, a fungus causing lighter “scabby” kernels in the wheat. Small amounts can be separated from the good wheat kernels, but an infestation can ruin the crop.

The harvesting requires prompt cleaning and drying of the wheat to prevent spoilage. Growers also have to understand the grain proteins and enzyme activity millers and bakers expect for bread wheat and the growing practices needed to achieve those. Some equipment is needed for harvesting larger quantities of grains.

While some have grown small patches of wheat locally and milled it themselves, the closest opportunity to sell or mill a quantity of wheat into flour was in Aroostook County. That is now changing, York said.

The Somerset Grist Mill is expecting to start milling and purchasing local grains this fall, co-owner Amber Lambke said. The grist mill is at the site of the former Skowhegan jail.

Wheat was a mainstay crop in Maine in the early 1800s, said Steve Scharoun, historical archaeologist, who attended the meeting. Wheat and meadowland for dairy were needed for logging camps. Grist mills were common, but in the mid-1800s the crops faltered for some reason and wheat crops diminished.

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