Tag Archives: wheat

MANHATTAN, Kan. — The southern Great Plains has a reputation for growing a large percentage of the U.S. wheat crop that is so important to millers and bakers around the globe who depend on it for making bread and general purpose flour.

But because of lower prices, compounded by weather challenges in recent years, fewer and fewer overall acres have been planted to wheat. A February report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated U.S. winter wheat planted area at a 110-year low.

One part of the wheat industry bucking that trend is organic wheat production. While still a tiny part of overall U.S. wheat output, organic production – wheat certified by the USDA to be grown free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers – grew by more than 11 percent to 10.5 million bushels, according to the USDA’s most recent report. That crop was grown on more than 336,550 acres.

Organic wheat sought by millers and bakers for use in flour and ultimately for organic bread, pastries, crackers and snacks, commands prices sometimes two to three times higher than conventionally-grown wheat.

But growers considering switching from conventional wheat production to organically-grown wheat face obstacles, including a lack of research focused on which existing varieties grow well in organic environments and a need for new varieties developed specifically for organically-managed fields.

To address the benefits and challenges, Heartland Plant Innovations, a for-profit innovation company that was formed through a collaboration of Kansas wheat producers via Kansas WheatKansas State University, and private investors, conducted a survey of organic wheat growers in the southern Plains and organized a conference in late January in Manhattan, attended by wheat producers, plant breeders, flour millers, extension professionals and other industry representatives.

“HPI’s goal in hosting this conference was to uncover the challenges and opportunities within the organic wheat industry,” said HPI President Dusti Gallagher. “The outcome of this conference will be to produce an industry-wide white paper that will assist in advancing the industry forward. HPI’s efforts will focus on exploring opportunities to breed and evaluate wheat lines optimized for organically-managed lands.”

Organic wheat grower Michael Raile said the biggest benefit of growing any organic crop is not having to worry about handling chemicals or protecting himself and consumers from them. He and his wife Ashley along with his parents, Tim and Robyn, grow organic wheat on farmland near St. Francis, Kansas in the far northwest reaches of the state. Their land has been in the Raile family tracing back to Gottlieb Raile Sr., who arrived in the United States from Odessa, Russia in 1885.

“My current farming operation is in transition to be fully organic on all my acres,” Raile said, adding that about half his acres are already certified and the rest are in the transitional phase. “Before becoming organic, I was a conventional no-till farm.”

He added that making a transition from a conventional wheat operation to certified organic takes three years, during which the grower cannot use synthetic fertilizers or chemicals. Crops produced in those three years must be sold on the conventional market.

“Weed control is the biggest challenge, since the only method available is mechanical removal,” Raile said, adding that seeking out markets for organically-grown wheat is something of a challenge but one he likes. “I enjoy seeking out new markets and building relationships with past buyers, since it’s unlike the conventional marketplace and being able to sell it locally.”

Other crops he is considering are organic barley, oats, peas, millet and sorghum.

Because they cannot use synthetic pesticides or fertilizer on their fields, organic farms on average produce about 23 bushels per acre less wheat than conventional farms.

Protein was the top priority for organic farmers according to the survey and conference participants. Other priorities include test weight, disease resistance, falling mixograph/farinograph numbers (which are used to measure specific properties of flour), and yield.

Early vigor was also mentioned so the wheat can grow quickly, spread out and tiller early in order to out-compete weeds. Many of the newer varieties, growers said, have been developed so the stalk and head structure are upright, which work well in conventional systems where spraying for weeds can occur. Organic growers, however, prefer heads that splay over and provide shade in the rows, which impedes weed growth.

In addition to the three-year transition phase, lower yields, and weed and pest control, producers said other challenges in changing to organically-grown wheat include

  • A lack of crop insurance instruments that would protect transitioning and organic producers.
  • A lack of wheat varieties that have consistent kernel size.
  • The need for separate storage and transportation.
  • Price transparency and market information are difficult to come by.

The survey and conference were supported by an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a leading advocate for Nebraska agriculture, was named the National Wheat Leader of the Year by the National Association of Wheat Growers. This is the wheat industry’s top award. The Wheat Leader of the Year receives a customized Wheaties Box.

“Farmers and ranchers work their butts off to feed the world and represent the best of America. I’m proud to stand up for them. That’s why I am honored to receive the Wheat Leader of the Year award. It’s a big deal – I just wish this box actually had Wheaties in it.” –Senator Ben Sasse

“We were happy to see the National Association of Wheat Growers vote for and name Senator Sasse the National Wheat Leader of the Year because he gets the challenges we’re facing and makes sure our voice is heard. He’s an unrivaled champion of trade on behalf of our farmers and always works to make sure that wheat growers have a seat at the table — whether it’s meetings with Mexican Ambassador Geronimo Gutierrez in Washington, D.C., or hosting a round table discussion on trade in Omaha with Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade Ted McKinney. He’s a true agvocate, and we’re glad our fellow wheat states recognized this as well.” –Brian Schafer, Nebraska Wheat Growers Association Board Member and Wheat Farmer from Culbertson, NE

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Most consumers typically don’t think that a food safety risk lurks in their kitchen’s flour bin, but a handful of product recalls since 2015 in the United States and other countries is changing that mindset.

Rather than accept that it’s just the way the cookie crumbles, scientists at Kansas State University are taking the challenge head on to find ways to ensure the safety of flour and the many products that are made from it.

“When I was trained as a food scientist, one of the things we were taught is that there were a few products that were generally safe,” said Gordon Smith, department head for grain science and industry at K-State. “Maybe those products were not absolutely safe, but they were on a continuum of things that were much lower risk. Flour was one of those products.”

In January, 2019, General Mills announced a voluntary national recall of five-pound bags of its Gold Medal unbleached flour, citing the potential presence of Salmonella. There have been no confirmed consumer illnesses as a result of the suspect flour, but the company issued the recall “out of an abundance of care,” according to a statement.

The incident symbolized a heightened awareness in the flour industry that the raw product could carry such potent pathogens as Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) or Salmonella introduced at some point from harvest in a crop field to the consumer’s kitchen.

“We are curious about where the contamination comes from,” Smith said. “We can speculate and speculate, but no one knows the answer to that positively or if there’s a single source. No one knows where it comes from or what happens during storage or processing.”

Armed with world-class laboratories capable of studying dangerous pathogens in controlled settings, the university is replicating commercial milling and baking processes and introducing E. coli and Salmonella at high doses to determine ways to reduce the risk of contaminated flour and finished bakery products.

K-State food scientist and microbiologist Randy Phebus has worked for more than 30 years tracking foodborne pathogens. Since 2012, Phebus has been a lead investigator on a $25 million project to investigate the presence of STEC in beef products and cattle.

He’s now part of a K-State group that has turned a watchful eye to flour.

“Ultimately in flour, like in many other products, we would like to have a ready-to-eat, pasteurized product that is safe,” he said. “The (food) industry is looking for that type of product, but the reality is that raw, agricultural-based products like flour are not risk free.

“We are on a quest to find a processing method or antimicrobial technology that will help the industry reduce these food safety risks to a very low probability of causing consumers to get sick or companies to have a contamination-related recall.”

Kaliramesh Siliveru, an assistant professor in the Department of Grain Science and Industry, is leading computerized modeling of grain processing, re-creating the life of flour from the time a wheat stalk is grown in a farmer’s field to the time flour is scooped out for a homemade cake or cookies.

That work is finely detailed, essentially building a picture of the entire environment for flour processing.

“You have to make certain that the entire chain is clean,” Siliveru said.

He added that, in practice, computerized modeling provides a fuller understanding of the potential spots where E. coli or other pathogens may be found, whether that be in the field, during harvest, at the flour mill, in a consumer’s kitchen or someplace else.

“Computer modeling also provides insight into how these pathogens are transferred in the supply chain from farm to table and allows us to design a kill step to inactivate these dangerous pathogens,” Siliveru said.

Phebus notes that K-State’s work responds to an important industry issue to maintain the safety of flour and baked products.

“Companies have a brand and the liabilities that go with marketing retail or wholesale flour,” he said. “It’s also a very important food service issue because if you’re a pizza parlor or something like that making bread, you’ve got to know that you’re not going to be making people sick.

“And it’s a home kitchen issue because if you’ve ever baked a cake, you know that even if you’ve baked the cake well, the flour gets all over the kitchen, so it’s a cross-contamination hazard.”

Smith noted that K-State’s work includes faculty in the university’s grain science department and the Food Science Institute. K-State also is working with the Manhattan-based American Institute of Baking, which works with more than 200 bakery companies across the United States, and several milling and processing equipment companies.

Parts of the studies are being carried out in the Hal Ross Flour Mill, located in the university’s grain science complex in Manhattan, and in food safety labs in the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry.

“It’s high level research, but it’s also information that is part of teaching students,” Phebus said. “We may be training the first generation of food science, milling and baking science students who will be food safety experts concentrating on grain handling, flour milling, bakery products and even pet food.”

Washington, D.C. (February 15, 2019) – The National Association of Wheat Growers and U.S. Wheat Associates held its annual winter conference from February 11-15, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Conducting meetings with Members from wheat states as well as the House and Senate Agriculture Committee and their staff, wheat growers focused their discussions on implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, challenges facing the wheat industry, and trade. Additionally, NAWG’s Committees covered a range of topics including the farm bill implementation, U.S.-Canada-Mexico Agreement and other trade issues, and wheat research needs.

“The 2018 NAWG/USW Winter Conference was notably busy this year as NAWG really focused on meeting with freshmen Members of Congress as well as staff from the House and Senate Committees on Agriculture,” stated NAWG CEO Chandler Goule. “Our priority is to get the farm bill implemented as Congress intended and to educate freshman Members on who is NAWG and the role wheat farmers, and all growers, play as the backbone of the agriculture economy.”

The 2019 NAWG/USW Winter Conference would not have been made possible without the help of NAWG’s Industry Partners Council. A special thank you WestBred for supporting the Wheat Lounge, BNSF Railway for partnering with us on Wheat 103, Indigo Ag for speaking to our Wheat Breeding Innovation Committee, and FMC for providing Friday’s lunch and workshop.

“On Thursday, February 14th, the National Wheat Foundation held a well-attended educational event for the Administration, Congressional Members and their staff in the Russell Senate Building,” continued Goule. “The event had twenty-three representatives from the wheat value chain and showcased how the wheat industry is truly expansive.”

NAWG’s committees are scheduled to meet at the 2019 Commodity Classic which is right around the corner, scheduled for February 26, 2019 to March 02, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. For more information visit the Commodity Classic site: http://commodityclassic.com/home.