Flavour in heritage grains

Flavour in heritage grains

Agribusiness
Aa

Farmers take up growing ancient and heritage grains.

Aa

Growing ancient and heritage grains has added a complex but interesting twist to the farming operations of Tania and Steve Walter, Marnoo West.

The Walters operate Burrum Biodynamics and produce a range of Australian Demeter Bio-Dynamic certified grains and seed.

With 950 hectares in the cropping operation, the arrival of 44 small packets of heritage seeds to trial required a different level of thought and a big lift in labour requirements.

Mrs Walter said the heritage seeds trial was "the fun" side of the business.

Forty-four plots were planted, weeded and harvested, all by hand, with seeds provided by Nick and Jackie Shelley, Pomonal, sourced from the Australian Grains Genebank.

The seeds comprised nine Yecora red wheats, nine purple grain varieties and 19 purple straw wheats.

Mrs Walter said the purple grains were rich in anthocyanin.

She said anthocyanin had an antioxidant effect and gave plants their colouring.

The health benefits and flavor enhancing characteristics were coveted by the bakers.

She said the purple straw varieties didn't have the appropriate milling quality, but the Shelleys were "keen to make a unique pastry" from the materials.

Mrs Walter said the initial 44 plots would be reduced to eight small plots this season using a combination of seeds.

The varieties for each mix were identified for characteristics and threshing ability.

The 19 purple would be combined into one, the nine Yocora in one mix and the purple grains into plots based on their colour and threshability.

To reduce the labour requirements the sowing and harvest functions would be contracted out to specialists.

The future of the heritage trials depended on what the bakers could do with it.

"If they can produce a product that is unique and popular, then we will keep going ahead," she said.

"Wheats are like wines. There's a big deal about wines and their different descriptions and wheat is the same."

The Shelleys operate Blue Wren Bakery at Pomonal.

Nick Shelley said he and wife Jackie had worked as bakers in Melbourne, mixing with the baking community and the movement of bringing back the older varieties of grains.

"We wanted to get back into some different varieties that we used to have before commercial farming took over," he said.

"We wanted to find our way away from wheat that was just bred for productivity and yield, rather than flavor and nutrition."

"A lot of older varieties might be a little bit harder to grow and were climate specific.

Mr Shelley said the bakery business was just starting, aiming to bake for the local community, the general store and local towns.

He said they hoped to be able to grow the heritage grains to develop a product that they could not only use themselves but for Burrum to also market to a wider community.

"Using these different grains will help us stand out from the pack and also help re-educate people on the benefits of using the different varieties and diversity you get from these older grains," he said.

He said the bio-dynamic aspect fitted nicely with their aims.

"Keeping it as local as possible and keeping food miles down," he said.

"We love the way Steve and Tania work and grow their crops."

Bio-dynamic

After operating a no-till farming system Tania and Steve Walter "woke up one morning and felt we were on a treadmill" of higher inputs and becoming more reliant on that in the future, Tania Walter said.

Mrs Walter said the shift to bio-dynamic farming took a shift in mindset.

"Looking back we were too slow in giving up our obsession with our chemical boom sprayer a bit earlier," she said.

"We were nervous and the older generation were even more nervous and we didn't have the confidence."

The conversion to bio-dynamic started in 2005 and full certification was reached in 2008.

Crops are normal winter crops - beans, peas, vetch, lentils and standard grains of wheat, oats and barley.

"The interesting, more niche crops are Spelt and rye," Mrs Walter said.

In 2005 the Walters stopped sending grain to the local silos and immediately found a market from organic dairy farmers for their product.

Onfarm storage was a key to holding product for dairy farmer clients.

Storage capacity has increased 80 to 90 per cent to cater for the supply chain demand and well as meeting the requirements of the auditors for the bio-dymamic certification.

In 2013 the business started catering for the local "human food market" instead of supplying just the animal feed.

Starting with lentils the Walters acquired enough second-hand equipment to engineer their own small facility to split their own lentils.

"There was some pretty basic farming workshop engineering skills, but it works," she said.

The facility now performs a range of operations including de-hull Spelt, split lentils and peas and clean weeds from crops.

"Instead of investing in boom sprays and chemical, we can actually invest in cleaning equipment," she said.

Demand for human foods has increased.

"We've got more going to the human food market and less to dairy farmers, particularly over COVID, that was the right thing to do," Mrs Walter said.

"It was important to make sure people were fed during that time. We just said this is a great purpose during unique times - let's do it."

Bio-dynamic preparations to activate the soil microbiology, create fertility with multi species cover crops, use minimum/correct tillage techniques and grow food without using chemicals nor water soluble fertilizers

Field performance, colour, size, flour quality and baking purpose have all influenced which varieties are culled, combined or kept separate for replanting in 2021.

Aa

From the front page

Sponsored by