Farmer Focus Arable: Organic milling wheat disappoints Andrew Charlton

An increasingly important customer for Poplar Farm is Denver Mill, a 174-year-old windmill, run by Mark and Lindsay Abel, with bakery, tea rooms and training facilities just a few miles away. The couple took over a couple of years ago and have rejuvenated the business.

I have been supplying them with organic grain for just over a year and have learned a great deal. For the harvest just gone I tried to find an improved variety of organic milling wheat, combining good disease resistance with yield and quality. Unfortunately the variety I picked, Buzzer, was a record breaker in giving me the lowest yield of winter wheat ever (4.2t/ha) and the lowest quality (9.17% protein).

It shows how much we need a good Recommended List-equivalent for organic varieties. None of the organic wheat varieties we’ve just drilled are on the RL.

I rang Denver Mill after harvest to explain my embarrassment at having let them down but they have been able to produce a consistent, and very good quality loaf from it anyway. I think this demonstrates that all farmers have been beaten into producing a product that is highly consistent for homogenous mass production bakery systems, but a craft baker can simply use their skill to refine recipes slightly without affecting the finished product’s eating quality.

Harvest 2009 also saw the first rye and spelt grown on this farm for Denver Mill. Spelt is a fascinating crop to grow; it is a good scavenger for nutrients and looked much greener and healthier all the way through the growing season. The yield off the combine was about 5t/ha, which I was happy with. The crop is harvested with the husk still attached, so a local organic farmer is removing the husk to get a grain that can be milled.

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