Changes coming to Sherck Seeds

Rice Trials 2020

As I enter my 8th season of intensive crop trialing and seed increasing, I wanted to take the opportunity to share about some of the changes taking place for 2020/21. My initial intention for starting a “seed business” was to be able to offer seed for varieties of staple crops adapted to the Midwest. While this effort has continued, the overall scope of my seed trialing took on ever expanding reaches that went way beyond my original purpose. This was not a negative consequence but rather the positive outcome of having come into contact with so many excellent seed savers here in the US and abroad whom have shared tremendous amounts of precious seed with me. To this day I am still in awe of the enormity of rare and forgotten varieties of grains and legumes, let alone vegetables. When I grew my first seed plot in 2013 I had 3 beds of Duborskian Upland Rice, the only variety of upland rice that I had ever heard of. I really felt I had stumbled onto something unique for northern climates. Jump forward to 2020, to date I have successfully trialled and offered seed for 38 varieties, with 36 new varieties awaiting trialing this summer! And that is just a drop in the bucket for the total number of known and unknown upland rice varieties.

The problem with 7 seasons of continuous trials and seed increases is that is has kept me from pursuing a long list of projects. Some involve breeding, others related to growing methods. 7 seasons has given me knowledge of a good number of specific varieties that can now be plugged into experiments like same species “mixture plots”, multi-cropping and intercropping systems. I also have a desire to work more closely with my immediate regional community. In order to be able to pursue these ideas I need to reduce the amount of space and time I have devoted to maintaining the large selection of crops that have been available through my website. For the 2021 growing season and beyond, I will be offering the following for sale through this website.

Upland Rice The successes from the 2020 trials will be available for purchase for the 2021 growing season as well as a number of varieties that have done well in the past.

Wheat There will be a number of new winter wheat varieties available in September for fall planting. These will include a number of heritage wheats from the Republic of Georgia as well as a few other European selections, including free threshing emmer and Jacobi Borstvete. A number of the best of the previous winter wheats I have grown will likely be available in the future.

Jacobi Borstvete

All other varieties of crops will no longer be available for purchase through this website. The rarest of these varieties will still be grown on my farm in small maintenance plots. This will not provide enough seed for me to sell but in the future I hope to have seed for sharing with individuals for their trials and projects. I will also be working with some other growers like Kevin Payne in Taft California to help in maintaining these varieties. I am currently working to convert all of Sherck Seeds “seeds for sale” crop pages into an easily navigable series of posts for archival research.

I greatly appreciate all the support from customers and fellow growers I have received these last 8 seasons. I hope that Sherck Seeds (which will likely become Sherck Seeds Research) can still play a helpful role in the advancement of sustainable, diverse small scale agriculture.

John Sherck

Posted in Equipment, Fall Planted Cereal Grains, Grains, Heritage and Ancient Grains, Methods, Research, Rice, Uncategorized, Upland Rice | 2 Comments

Highlights of Fellow Seed Stewards

February is always a long winter month even though it is the shortest in days. With spring seemingly taking forever to arrive, there is always a lot of extra time for reflection about the previous season and previous years. It is also a great time for anticipation and planning for the coming season projects and hopes. As I prepare for steering Sherck Seeds in a new direction (I will have more about this in a future post this spring), I also want to take the opportunity to highlight the work of some of the fellow seed stewards I have met over these last 7 years. This will be the first of a number of planned posts where I introduce some of these folks and their work with seed saving, seed stewardship and procurement, as well as plant breeding, methodology of growing and networking.

I met Scott Malpass a number of years ago. Like many introductions I have had, our friendship started with a “seed trade”. I asked him to write up brief description of his work and future aspirations for Scottland Farm. I do know that his efforts involve not only himself but other interested parties including growers and artists, all pooling their efforts to facilitate useful and meaningful rare seed stewardship.

“Scottland Farm is managed by Scott Malpass, a plant explorer and tribal seed keeper in Harford County, Maryland. Scottland Farm is comprised of small connected gardens and gardeners throughout the Mid-Atlantic area. We do work with a lot of amazing people such as Cody Frayser, who helps maintain a small heirloom garden in Powhatan, Virginia. The main goal of Scottland Farm is to teach traditional farming practices and maintain heritage seeds. These heritage seeds and practices are important to cultivate for future generations. One of the more traditional farming practices at my farm is a three-sister garden method in which when squash, corn and beans grow, support and benefit each other. We have one of biggest squash and pumpkin collections known, encompassing over 200 varieties. Many of these varieties happen to be endangered or close to extinction. We have ambitious plans for next year such as formalizing the company.”

As I write this post, Scott is currently enrolled in college, taking classes that will aid in his future plans (I believe he is studying for finals as I write this post). As he moves forward, I wish him and his colleagues all the best. Keep an eye out for future developments from Scottland Farm. You can currently find information about Scott’s work on Facebook.

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Fall Planted Grains Available for the 2019/2020 Season

This is seventh year since I started growing and selling seed here on my little farm in Northern Indiana. I am again, ready to offer my Fall planted grains for the 2019/2020 season. Many changes have occured over these seven years. One major, unintended but welcomed change, has been the opportunity to help in the work of seed preservation efforts for many rare landrace and heritage grains. What I have learned is that a number of these, like durum wheats and other spring planted wheats and barleys can be extremely challenging to grow in my midwestern climate. The increase of spring and summer rainfall these last few years has made raising these crops even more challenging and in some cases, next to impossible. A couple years ago I became acquainted with a grower/chef named Kevin Payne in Taft California. We began to exchange seed and I quickly learned what a huge difference climate and region can make. I sent him a small amount of my best Hourani wheat seed. Later that year he returned seed to me that was, in my opinion, “off the chart”. His Hourani seeds were twice the size of mine, completely disease free and he showed me the real potential for this tremendous ancient wheat. My largest heads grown here in Indiana would yield an average of about 45 grains. The heads Kevin sent me contained close to 150 grains! At this point be began to collaborate more closely to trial, preserve and increase seed stocks for various grains.

This season, in addition to the seed I raise here in Northern Indiana, I am also offering some of Kevin’s seed, including African Purple Wheat, Black and Tan “naked einkorn”, Cervena Wheat, Tibetan Black Barley and a few others. I will be offering some new varieties of wheat from the Republic of Georgia. None of these are available in large quantities. All other crops for the 2020 season will be available sometime in mid to late November, including a number on new, early maturing rice varieties.

Thank you for your continued support.


Posted in Fall Planted Cereal Grains, Grains, Heritage and Ancient Grains, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Fall Planted Cereal Crop Seed Available

It is that time of the year again to start planning for winter grains. Here in Northern Indiana, I usually plant around the first of October. Our Hessian Fly date is September 15th. With the uptick of strange weather I opt for planting a little later into fall to be on the safe side. I know that my region has been wavering between what we used to be (zone 5) and what we may become (a zone 6).

Solina Italian Wheat

I currently have available the following winter wheat varieties: Banatka, Ukrainka, Rouge de Bordeaux, Red Fife and Turkey Red. These have proven to be very reliable and are all excellent “free threshing” bread wheats. In addition, I have added 2 new Italian varieties, Solina and Terminillo, both of which did well for me this season, although I would give the Solina very high remarks! The Terminillo is something a bit different. It is a cross between rye and wheat but it is not triticale. The seed for both of these were sent to me from Italy and they are the product of Italian farmers and not sourced from a Institutional Seed Bank.

I also have Sangaste’ Estonian Rye and 2 “spring” barley varieties, Sumire Mochi and Faust, that survived last winter with no issues. These are both “free threshing” and also produced the earliest harvest of grain I have ever had (June 12th). This last winter was fairly mild overall, although we did hit some lows early on nearing -15 fahrenheit. If you live in a zone 5 or colder I would suggest a trial planting to see how these barleys fare in your region.

Here is a link to all the fall planted crops

The desire to experiment with certain traditionally “spring” crops as fall planted comes from my conclusion that early spring planting here in my region is a real gamble. This spring (2018) was one of the wettest I have experienced, with June having 15 days of measurable rainfall. Aside from getting the crops in the ground, disease issues were problematic for many of my spring planted wheat varieties. The barley trials managed better than the wheat, but given all the rain during flowering and grain fill in June, fall planting appears to be a better option for barley as well. Oats seem to be little bothered by all the wet as long as one can get them planted early enough. With that said, my seed offerings for 2019 will be the last to include spring planted wheat and barley. I will be focusing solely on fall varieties. In anticipation of this change, I am excited about planting this coming October, a number of Republic of Georgia wheat cultivars, winter durum wheat and a new variety of hulless barley,bred for fall planting.

2018 Gaspe’

As usual, I will have all other seed varieties available around the middle of November. For the 2019 season I have a number of new, early maturing upland rice cultivars, including 2 red “sticky” types. Gaspe’ flint corn will be available as a composite of 4 strains. I am able to begin selecting for the best ears, now that the Gaspe’ genepool is broader. This is an example of a new stage in my seed saving efforts. I will be doing less trialing of new material in the future and instead, be working with the best varieties I have found over these last 6 years.

Thanks again for your interest and support!

John Sherck

Posted in Fall Planted Cereal Grains, Grains, Heritage and Ancient Grains, Uncategorized, Upland Rice | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Another Seed Selling Season Ends with a Splash

Here it is the last day of May 2018. I have suspended my seed selling while I give my full attention to growing out crops for the 2019 season. I will have fall planted grains available in late August. All other seed varieties should be available in mid-November.

I say the season ended with a “splash”, or rather a “torrent”. This May my farm received nearly 9 inches of rain. All this on top of already saturated soil from excessive rains in April, totaling 6 1/2″ with record flooding, which is uncommon where I live. Amazingly, I have only lost one bed of Black Emmer Wheat that was waterlogged for a solid month. I look at this increasingly, all to familiar, situation in two ways. On the one hand, I hate to struggle with extreme weather events. The thought of losing crops is never a good thing. On the other hand, it creates a window of opportunity to see how crops react to such conditions as heavy rains, excessive soil moisture, and early periods of heat and humidity. This last week has been in the upper 80’s and low 90’s. In Northern Indiana the average temperatures for the end of May used to be in the low 70’s). It also begs the question; can a crop be adapted to excessive moisture? I am beginning to believe they can in certain cases, but this is a slow process of selection and adaptation. Finding new varieties that can be regionalized is also being put to the test. This spring I decided to go all out with new trials of heritage grains, including wheat, barley, oats and rice.

Black Oats from Northern Sweden

This decision to conduct numerous trials was the culmination of extensive seed exchanges these last 2 winters with folks across the US as well as growers in Mexico, Sweden, Czech Republic, Denmark, Canada, Italy and Estonia. I also accessed some interesting germplasm from the USDA. All in all, the seed was piling up and I am not one to just stick it in the freezer. Frozen seed does not adapt to anything. Hence, this spring I set out to trial as many suitable candidates as I have room for. I am looking specifically for varieties that are adapted or easily adaptable to the midwest. Occasionally I come across a variety that is not really suited for my region but, given it’s obscurity and value I keep growing it out. This would be the situation for Hourani, Jaljuli and Xinchan Rice Wheat.

As has been the case for the last 5 seasons, any Heritage or Ancient  trialed variety that produces viable seed of at least “fair” quality and quantity, will be available for growers this coming season. In the case of the Hourani, Jaljuli and Xinchan Wheat, I have suggested in the past that these would be a better fit for the arid west. This has proven to be true as reports from growers in Colorado and Southern California have confirmed great results with the Xinchan and Hourani. Much better than my meager attempts to maintain them here in Indiana. With that said, I will hopefully have another harvest of these “regionally questionable” varieties for the 2019 season. After that, I plan to focus on crops for the Midwest, and more specifically, the Great Lakes region. One example of this would be fall planted durum wheats and hulless barleys that can survive our zone 5-6 winters.

I am also conducting  trials of 14 new varieties of rice, including new black rice, 2 sticky

Rice trial beds, May 2018

red rice varieties and some long grain upland rice. Interest in rice growing has really increased in the last few years. I predict 2018 will be a breakthrough for small scale, organic commercial rice here in the Midwest.

I want to thank all my new customers this season and all the folks who have supported my efforts over the previous 5 seasons. I look forward to offering many new “old” varieties of cereal grains, corn, legumes, etc. for 2019.

John Sherck


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New Sources for Regionally Adapted Seeds

I wanted to take the opportunity to briefly share some exciting additions to locally sourced seed here in the Great Lakes/Midwest region. Over the past couple of years I have gotten a chance to meet and exchange seed with a number of growers here in Indiana and Michigan. While I appreciate all my customers from all 50 states, I am always excited to engage with local growers and gardeners who can benefit from my efforts at adapting  grains and other crops to our regional climate.

I wanted to mention a couple of regional seed growers who have started offering seed this year. Both are folks I personally know, have great respect for and above all, trust in their efforts to save seed, practice sustainable growing methods, and understand the need for regionally adapted seed sources.

My current trajectory as a seed grower is to focus primarily on grains. While I do offer a fair amount of legumes, tomatoes, peppers and a few others, my future focus will remain targeted on grains. These new seed businesses are offering much more by way of heritage beans, squash, and other veggies. If you are looking to add some exciting heritage crops to your gardens this spring, I urge you to check out these 2 seed houses. They currently sell all of their own seed, grown “on farm”, in Michigan.


First, I would suggest taking a look at Great Lakes Staple Seed. Operated by Eleanor and Scott Hucker, in Ortonville, Michigan. I received some of their bean seed last week (Alubia de Tolusa and Dolloff), and the seed was gorgeous and high quality! If you check out their website, you will find a great assortment of rare legumes including lentils, peas, soybeans, and other various common beans. In addition, they also have some great squash and grain varieties. I know for a fact they intend to offer a broader collection of grains in the future. Scott has been busy working his way through the entire corpus of the KUSA seed collection. These are rare grain varieties that need to be grown out, curated, and made more widely available.

Secondly, I would recommend taking a look at the Small House Farm, in Sanford, Michigan, operated by Ben and Heather Cohen. Ben has been busy helping to establish community seed banks, seed swaps, and seed libraries here in the Midwest. I met Ben in the fall of 2016, at a seed swap hosted by SEED Brown County, in Nashville, Indiana. They are now offering seed for a number of rare heirloom beans, squash and melons, as well as tomato and pepper varieties on their website. Small House Farm also sells cold pressed oils, seeds and nuts, and herbal body care products.

I also want to mention two larger, established seed companies based in Ann Arbor Michigan. Nature and Nurture Seeds specializes in seed that is locally grown, adapted to the Great Lakes Region/Midwest, and Heritage and Slow Food Ark of Taste varietals. The Ann Arbor Seed Company grows and processes open pollinated seed in Washtenaw County, Michigan, with the goal of offering local gardeners/farmers an alternative source for vegetable and ornamental seed. Both of these seed businesses offer a broad variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Grow Soil First, Grow Food Second, and please support local farmers and seed growers!










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Ready to Take Orders for the 2018 Growing Season

This season I have expanded the selections of Upland Rice, Wheat and Barley. Improved grow outs have enabled me to offer larger packets of some items like the Hourani and Dika Wheat, as well as some of the KUSA barley varietals. I am excited to offer 3 new  upland rice varieties this season, Amaura, Zerwachanica and Italian Carnaroli rice. The Carnaroli is one of a group of heritage seeds sent to me from Italy last winter. In addition to this famous risotto rice, I also am offering Italian Marano corn (for perfect polenta), Italian Timilia Wheat and an Italian bean called Badda di Polizzi. I hope to incorporate more Italian crops in the coming seasons.

I also have added Bnugzegnug (Walpole Island White) flour corn. It has been a real privilege to be able to offer some of the traditional crops grown by the Potawatomi Indians. Bnugzegnug takes it’s place along side the Mskigwat flint corn, Potawatomi Rabbit Beans and Potawatomi Pole Lima Beans.

In addition, there are also a couple new “rare” lima beans, North Star and Red Calico. Two new “Old World” rye varieties from a “seed” friend in Estonia, Tvengsberg Midsummers Rye and Sangaste’. I also have a new barley, Trysilbygg, from seed sent to me from Norway, and 2 new strains of Einkorn Wheat; one from the Austrian Alps and another from the Balkans. Last but not least, I have added a Belorussian processing tomato called Permoga (seed from Estonia) and for those who love Gaspe’ corn as much as I do; I have a new strain to offer in addition to the one I have offered the last two years. My hope is to broaden the genetics for Gaspe’.

It was a good year but with a few flops. I had really hoped to offer both a red and a black upland rice variety this season. They both turned out to be problematic. I have plans to trial some “better suited”, red and black upland rice varieties next summer. I also lost a crop of Norwegian wheat to rust (a fungal disease); and of course, daily battles with crazy rabbits and hungry, persistent birds  Otherwise, it was a successful year and I greatly appreciate all my customers from last season and look forward to providing quality seed to any new. Already this Fall, I have had a series of wonderful phone conversations with folks from South Carolina, Louisiana, Delaware and Minnesota, to name just a few. Many of these calls were from farmers (rice and wheat). These conversations have provided me with tons of insights about these crops. To think, 5 years ago when I started selling seed, I was simply excited than I could grow one rice variety (Duborskian), successfully here in northern Indiana. Now I am up to 10 varieties and realize that I am just scratching the surface. Biodiversity is an amazing and important concept to wrap your mind around!

  • Please check out the Resources and Community section on this website. I have added a lot of information about regional seed saving organizations, as well as information about equipment and links to websites dealing with specific crops.


Posted in Equipment, Fall Planted Cereal Grains, Grains, Heirloom Tomatoes, Heritage and Ancient Grains, Legumes, Methods, Rice, Uncategorized, Upland Rice | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Fall Planted Grains Now Available

I am now taking orders for my collection of fall planted cereal grains. All other seed will be available for purchase in mid November. Many of these, including new heritage rice and corn varieties are still in the field nearing maturity.

I had a great season with these fall planted wheat varieties, and the heritage landrace rye, Sangaste’, from Estonia. After 4 years of adaptation and selection I am beginning to see improvements in some of these varieties.

  • I do not ship outside of the US and I do not have larger quantities than the listed packet sizes.

Click here to go to the fall planted wheat.     WINTER WHEAT for FALL 2017

Click here to go to the Sangaste Rye              SANGASTE RYE

Posted in Fall Planted Cereal Grains, Grains, Heritage and Ancient Grains, Products, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ready To Take Orders for the 2017 Growing Season!

img_9416As I sit here typing this, outside, we are having the first snow of the season. The cold weather has been a little later than normal, and a lot like getting my website updated with all the new seed varieties for the coming season, 2017. I grew out a large number of new crops as trials this season, like lentils and a number of heritage and ancient wheat varieties. They did so well that I have enough seed to offer some to interested customers. A number of these new crops are not “tried and true” cultivars for my region, here in the Midwest, but I believe they are important enough to make available. I have added specific information to each crop’s corresponding page, listing them as “for preservation purposes”.

I have also added a number of new crops that are indigenous to the north, like Potawatomi Pole Beans and Potawatomi Rabbit Beans, as well as Mskigwat Flint Corn and Darwin John Flint Corn. These are already well acclimated to our growing conditions here in Northern Indiana. All are heirloom varieties from historical Native American farmers here in the upper Midwest and New England.

I have also added 6 new varieties of rice from Japan, China and Italy. The two cultivars img_8789from Italy, Loto and Vialone, are both “risotto type” rice. All six of these performed superbly. I also have a rice variety, Hayayuki, suited for growing in zone 4!

These are just a few of the new offerings for this season, as well the best of the previous seasons, like Kwintus Beans and Styrian Pumpkins, to name just a few. It has been a real stretch on my time and sanity to add this much new material, but I believe it was well worth it. All of this years crops produced great under difficult weather conditions. We had a 2 month drought in the spring, followed by one of the wettest summers on record. Overall, it is a real testament to the resilience of these heirloom and heritage, open-pollinated crops!

John Sherck

Posted in Grains, Heritage and Ancient Grains, Legumes, Rice | 6 Comments

Tombstones, Mummies, Vomit-toxin and Beer?

Hourani Wheat infected with FHB

Hourani Wheat infected with FHB

Tombstones, Mummies, Vomitoxin, – three words that are not readily associated with a crusty loaf of bread or a frothy glass of beer. In truth, these are four words used when discussing a common plant disease which can threaten cereal grains like wheat and barley. This potentially devastating disease is caused by the fungus, Fusarium graminearum. Farmers refer to its presence in a field of wheat as Fusarium Head Blight or FHB. I became aware of the potential threat of this disease two seasons ago while conducting grain trials here on my farm in Northern Indiana. The unusually wet spring of 2014, brought the significance of this disease to my attention as I began to notice some tell-tale signs of infection on certain wheat varieties. This last season (2015) brought even more excessive and frequent rains throughout the spring and especially throughout the month of June. Prolonged, rainy and humid conditions are prime for the development and spread of FHB. Needless to say, with22 varieties of wheat and barley in field trials, the disease reared its ugly head again, and this time with a fury! The purpose of this post is to talk about the real threat this disease poses to the overall yield of cereal grains in the US and abroad, and to discuss one incredible tool sustainable farmers are utilizing to address this threat, the reintroduction of Heritage and Ancient grains.

Let me briefly explain the terms I used in this post’s header. They are common words amongst farmers, agricultural researchers, and the food industry which handles and processes grain crops, yet they are virtually unknown to consumers who purchase end products like bread and beer. Firstly, the soil-born fungal disease, Fusarium Head Blight also goes by the lovely name, “Scab” or “Head Scab”. Many healthy stands of wheat and barley may contain small amounts of infection. The real problem comes during prolonged periods of moisture, humidity, and warm weather. If these conditions occur during the flowering period and consecutive grain fill (that is when the pollinated kernels of grain begin to fillout after flowering) then the potential for more severe infection and spread increases. Affected grain heads appear as partially or totally bleached in color. There can

Pinkish Orange FHB Spores

Pinkish Orange FHB Spores

also be the distinctive pinkish-orange color on the grain spikelets. These are the fungal spores. Fields infected with scab can have lower yields and poor kernel development. These small misshapen kernels of infected grain are referred to as “Mummies” and/or “Tombstones”. Lastly, the term “Vomitoxin” (pronouced as vomit-toxin) refers to the mycotoxin “deoxynivalenol” which can be present in infected grain. The name is due to the fact that consuming this toxin in high levels can cause one to vomit, (people who drink to much beer frequently vomit, but usually not after the first glass). The industry has discouraged the use of the term vomitoxin, and prefers the more friendly sounding term, DON, (an acronym for deoxynivalenol). Grain infected with FHB, that does not necessarily mean that the mycotoxin, DON, is present. DON is not considered to be carcinogenic in low doses and the industry has high standards for screening to keep our food supply of wheat and barley free of any dangerous levels of this toxin.

The FDA has set the allowable amount of DON present in finished grain for human consumption at 1 ppm (part per million). For animal feed the threshold is between 5ppm and 10ppm, depending on how the grain is used in feed rations. In the case of the presence of DON, infected grain can be run through a seed cleaner, like a fanning mill or gravity table, to reduce the amount of mycotoxin to a level that is suitable for food grade. These are just some of the facts as I understand them. The primary point I am trying to make is that this disease, which thrives during wet spring/summer conditions, is on the rise due to global weather weirdness. The agricultural industry considers this to be a serious problem. A increase in the frequency of spring and summer precipitation for the grain belt (that is what NOAA predicts), could spell trouble if no solid solutions for FHB are found. This could lead to a very hefty increase in overall food prices, and even worse, the global threat of more expensive beer!!

Grain Trials 2015

Grain Trials 2015

This last season I was presented with the perfect storm for FHB exposure to my grain trials. The whole midwest experienced excessive rain amounts. In some cases, like here in Northern Indiana , the rainfall hit record breaking totals for the months of May and June. I plant my barley and spring wheat varieties at the very beginning of April. The majority of varieties, including the winter wheat, begins flowering in June (with the exception of my Black Einkorn Wheat, it flowers about a month later). My records show that last June (2015) it rained 16 days out of 30. Four of those were extremely heavy downpours, which can lead to another problem called lodging (grain stalks fall over). I knew by the middle of June that FHB was going to be a major issue. On the one hand it was the absolute worst year to attempt wheat and barley trials. On the other hand, it was the best case scenario for trialing. I could not have created these extreme weather conditions in a lab or university greenhouse, and I got fantastic data on disease, lodging, and yield! Many of the new trials like White Einkorn and Dylan Wheat were major disappointments. Others though, like my strain of brown Einkorn, Banatka Wheat, Red Fife, and Turkey Red did quite well. All the heritage barley varieties did well, and I have a lot of confidence that the Sardinian Barley will be a real “stand-out”!

The increase of disease pressure due to extreme weather events continually pushes me to consider heritage and ancient grain varieties. Farmers in the past have bred and adapted cultivars of wheat that are tolerant to fusarium and other diseases depending upon the diverse geographical regions in which they were developed. Many of these varieties have been lost due to factors like neglect of seed lines and apathy in lieu of more “advanced” cultivars. In light of the loss of such important genetic treasures, it is promising to know there still exists a great number of these varieties tucked away in government and university maintained seed banks around the globe. We are also learning that many of these heritage land-races are still being cultivated by small farmers in both East and West Europe, across Asia, and any other place where wheat had been historically grown and allowed to adapt. Sustainable farmers have the option to look to modern-bred varieties of cereal grains, but they also have the option to tap into these already adapted heritage and ancient varieties that have a diverse gene pool. For me, either of these options makes sense as long as the development of new varieties is accomplished through traditional plant breeding techniques. There are some great current breeding programs underway with an eye for developing new varieties for sustainable and organic farmers. I am especially encouraged by the numerous paticipatory breeding projects where farmers are in the drivers seat! On the other hand, genetically-engineered seed promise the potential for high yields, but is developed to be grown in concert with inputs like chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. The current strategy in conventional agriculture for dealing with FHB does take into account the importance of proper tillage and crop rotation, and stresses the need for planting disease-resistant varieties, but it is also beginning to rely more and more on the use of fungicides. Traditionally, dryland wheat and barley farmers rarely resorted to the use of fungicides, but with the increasing occurrence of foliar diseases like leaf rust and FHB, such spraying is becoming automatic.

Heritage and Ancient grains were selected over long periods of time to produce sucessfully

Sardinian Barley

Sardinian Barley

under difficult conditions. They were also adapted to less fertile soils (or should I say, normal soils not pumped up on chemical fertilizers) and dryland farming. What farmers in antiquity accomplished over generations of observation and careful selection, modern corporate agriculture is attempting to do in just a few years. Shortcuts usually do not pay off in the long run, unless of course, the pay off comes via the sale of corporation owned proprietary seed lines, sold in conjunction with corporate fertilizers and pesticides.

While the threat of Head Scab and the dangers of Vomitoxin loom, understand that plant disease is only one of the many problems farmers will face in the near future due to unpredictable weather cycles and extreme weather events. Overlooked and forgotten Heritage and Ancient grain varieties may hold some of the answers to these problems. Not to mention the possibility of great flavor and nutrition. That is a whole other story……

This post will have to be presented in two parts. I am eager to delve into the Heritage and Ancient grains varieties themselves. There is a lot more to the story than Einkorn, Spelt and Emmer.

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