Friday, 31 July 2009

Lammas Loaf

This week, we have a guest blog from David Rose, Sustain's farm co-ordinator. In this first entry (hopefully, we'll persuade him to find time in his hectic schedule to bring us updates), he tells us of how things are going on his mission to bake a Local Loaf for Lammas with specially bred wheat from his own farm.

It’ll soon be the 1st of August, Lammas day - the highlight of summer, it’s a day we have planned for all year and we were so excited the baking of our first Loaf for Lammas.

However, here I sit, looking out on a sodden field of wet wheat, my plans in a puddle of clay brown rain water.

Never mind, there’s always tomorrow. You cannot be a farmer if you’re not prepared to beat the weather; my loaf will just have to wait a little longer.

My name David Rose and I’m 50 this year. I started working at Sustain six months ago and it’s changed my life. They say life begins at forty - well for me it’s come a little later.

As an arable farmer growing mainly wheat and oilseed rape, I assumed supplying direct to the public was not for me. Working for an organisation that brings together different groups who care about food, the environment and the future sustainability of food production, has shown me ways to reconnect to the consumer.

Martin runs Wakelyn's Agro-Forestry, a pioneering research farm in Suffolk, and leads Defra-funded studies into plant breeding for a post-petroleum world at The Organic Research Centre at Elm Farm in Berkshire. Elm Farm’s work is to develop and support sustainable land-use, agriculture and food systems, primarily within local economies, which build on organic principles to ensure the health and well-being of soil, plants, animals, men, women and their environment.

Martin told me about a project that was set up to research wheat production that allows farmers to be able to develop their own local varieties. This sounded fantastic and we were asked to become part of the HGCA trial - we were the only non organic farm to join the research - to develop these farm-specific varieties.

Basically, twelve milling and nine feed wheat varieties were cross-bred to produce the a high yielding (Y) population and a high protein/quality (Q) population. All parents were crossed to produce the Yield-Quality (YQ) Population. The populations these crossings produced are genetically diverse, as is indicated by the different heights of the wheat in the picture above - modern monocultural planting leads to more or less uniform straw length. From the successive saving and re-sowing of seed under particular local selective pressures, the idea being that the resulting crop may have the capability to adapt to variable environmental conditions, pests etc that are locally specific to the land on which the wheat is bred. Local resilience is particularly important for organic farms and with global climate change, increasingly so for all farming systems.

Well that was three years ago and we are now just about to harvest our second crop. We have set up links with a local miller and baker to see what sort of bread we can make on our farm. My real concern looking out onto the ever-darkening wheat field is that we have lost the protein levels we require within the wheat to make a local tasty loaf.

But never fear, we haven’t given up yet. Wait, is that a blue cloud I can see in the distance?

Catch you next time.

Farmer David

David Rose, is a co-founder and co-director of Farmeco UK Ltd, a contract farming company established as a collaborative farming venture by four neighboring farms in Nottinghamshire. David also works part time with the Campaign to Protect Rural England on a mapping project as part of Making Local Food Work.

You can read more about David's work at:

For more information on Elm Farm's composite cross population wheat research, visit: Programme

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