August 24, 2011

Maine, Vermont growing wheat again

The Associated Press

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"It's very seldom we can count on having two, three, a whole month with no rain to dry the crop, harvest it," said Hatch, who's in Gill, Mass.

Mallory and Heather Darby, an agronomist for the University of Vermont Extension, have been working with farmers to find grains that could work well in the region and improve farm practices, such as by harvesting earlier and drying wheat in bins with a fan.

"You can't control the weather but you can sort of come up with different strategies to help manage the weather that's brought to us," Darby said.

The University of Vermont also has set up a lab so that farmers no longer have to ship wheat long distances for quality and mycotoxin tests, a disease that likes humidity.

Randy George, who owns Red Hen Baking Co. in Middlesex, Vt., said the quality of local grains has "come a long way." Bakers need a certain level of protein and low enzyme activity. He said he's gone from thinking he could only use 20 percent local grains because of the quality to making a loaf entirely from Vermont grains.

"It has grains from three different farms in it and you know it's fun, I know all these guys, I know all three of them and I'm making a bread right from their farms," said George, who buys 65,000 pounds of local grain a year, compared to just 15,000 pounds he bought three years ago.

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