Ancient grains show new promise according to UW Extension study

March 27, 2023

News – Sheridan Media

The University of Wyoming reports the Cowboy State may be well positioned to capitalize on the growing demand for products made with ancient grains, a new study by UW Extension suggests.

According to the university, the publication, titled “Growing Einkorn, Emmer and Spelt in Wyoming,” analyzes the results of four years of trials conducted on Wyoming farms and agricultural experiment stations. These experiments tested the viability of producing three types of ancient wheat suitable for Wyoming growing conditions.

“These ancient grains provide an alternative to malt barley and wheat grown in the Big Horn Basin and in southeast Wyoming,” UW Extension educator and co-author of the publication, Caitlin Youngquist, said. “It gives farmers another choice for cash crops.”

Wyoming farmers already grow 250,000 acres of wheat, oats and barley annually. Ancient wheat varieties, such as einkorn, emmer and spelt, can be incorporated into current crop rotations and grown with existing equipment.

According to UW Director of Institutional Communications, Chad Baldwin, ancient grains have been plunged back into the spotlight recently; these crops have also already played a part in Wyoming history. In the early 1900s, Worland was home to an emmer breakfast cereal factory.

Baldwin reports that ancient grains typically have higher protein content than most modern wheat varieties and can be used for baking, cooking and even brewing beer.

Einkorn, emmer and spelt are taller than modern varieties, with more robust roots and greater leaf area. Farmers in the Big Horn Basin found that emmer and spelt require less water than malt barley, likely due to these larger root systems, according to UW.

The height of these plants also means that they produce very high-quality straw, a secondary marketable product, Youngquist says. Results suggested that emmer and spelt are viable as forage and fodder crops in Wyoming.

Baldwin reports that ancient grains do come with some drawbacks. Most ancient wheat varieties are not free threshing, which means they require additional post-harvest processing, Baldwin said. A UW report states that during the research trials, a dehuller at the Powell Research and Extension Center was used to complete this step.

However, despite potential challenges, the authors conclude that ancient grains offer promising options to diversify crops and revenue in Wyoming.

To download a free copy of the publication, visit the UW Extension Office publications page, here.

Last modified: March 27, 2023

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