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16 Oct Heritage Wheat
During a farm visit to FarmEd in the summer we were shown a plot of Heritage wheat and it was explained to us the all round benefits of growing these ancient grains and its importance in a regenerative system of production. At Lower Hampen Farm we have been growing modern single varieties of wheat as part of our eight year rotation but these highly bred varieties are hungry for artificial nitrogen and are susceptible to pests and diseases and so require expensive sprays to fulfil their potential of 3.5 tons/acre. Heritage wheat requires no extra nitrogen and no sprays. The yields are much lower, perhaps 1.5 tons/acre but there are no input costs so the profit margin is about the same or even better!
Heritage wheat can be made up of as many as 100 different varieties of wheat and this diversity brings many benefits in terms of resilience to pest and diseases and supports a broader interaction with flora and fauna both above the ground and in the soil. These old heritage varieties have much deeper roots and are able to draw on minerals and water from deeper down in the soil and can therefore withstand periods of drought. Bigger roots also form greater beneficial bonds with soil microbes and fungi in the exchange of nutrients.
In October we managed to acquire some Heritage wheat seed comprising of an amazing collection of highly nutritious varieties for bread making. Despite it being very late in the season, the soil was still warm enough to direct drill a 10 acre field. The field had been growing undisturbed a perennial crop of sainfoin for 7 years which as a legume has been fixing nitrogen in the soil. With great relief the wheat has come up and despite a small amount of slug damage is looking good! Our aim is to supply a local grain mill who will produce stoneground heritage flour for local artisan bakers and therefore keeping down the food miles.
We feel that farmers need to move away from being dependant on fossil fuels and grain grown should be for human consumption not for feeding intensively farmed livestock.