Niche wheats are on the way
Last winter, Paul Sproule read an article regarding niche wheats being developed by Arcadia Biosciences, a Davis, California, agricultural biotechnology firm.
“When I researched it, I got excited. I got on an airplane and went to California,” says the Grand Forks, North Dakota, farmer. “It was an opportunity to share our story of North Dakota agriculture, wheat production practices, and the technology that we embrace on our farm.”
In turn, it gave him an opportunity to check out niche non-genetically modified wheats that Arcadia BioSciences is developing under the GoodWheat brand. They include:
- High-fiber, resistant starch wheat that boosts fiber content of food products without the bitter taste of whole wheat.
- Reduced-gluten wheat that diminishes allergenic gluten by 75%.
- Improved quality wheat that’s a step up in nutritional value and protein quality above other wheats.
“If you want to do something in farming, you have to find your niche,” says Sproule. “In the Red River Valley of Minnesota and North Dakota, we are not the I-states. We have choices of what to grow. It can be corn, soybeans, wheat, edible beans, canola, and other crops.”
Last spring, he planted four test plots of bread and durum wheats developed by Arcadia BioSciences. He’s planning on working with the company again next year with the goal of eventually including another crop in the farm’s portfolio.
“I think this is an exciting time to be farming,” he says. “There is more technology that has happened in the last 20 years than in the previous 100, and it’s accelerated in the last five to six years. We have technologies that help increase yields and disease resistance. We are even looking at crops that can improve fiber intake in our diet.”
Wheat’s been flat on its back in recent years. Still, new technology is breathing life into this golden grain.
“That starch acts as dietary fiber,” says Colleen Zammer, senior director of marketing and product development for Bay State Milling. This increased dietary fiber content may also reduce the glycemic response to foods, a factor important in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.
Bay State Milling Company is the North American licensee of the high-amylose trait that’s been patented by Arista Cereal Technologies. Wheat containing this trait produces Bay State Milling’s HealthSense High Fiber Wheat Flour.
Products like whole wheat bread are a current way to glean dietary fiber. Still, products containing seed coat bran have a drawback.
“Consumers tend not to like the bitter flavor,” says Zammer.
Products containing these flours aren’t on grocery shelves yet. Firms are now working with food manufacturers to include these flours in food products.
“We believe that consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that are healthier, and that creates value all the way down to farmers,” says Raj Ketkar, president and CEO of Arcadia Biosciences. “In the next 12 to 15 months, we should be at a point where we can commercialize the wheat flour in small quantities. These traits could actually increase the value of wheat.”
Farmers currently testing these wheats glean premiums that vary by wheat class and geography, says Zammer.
“It fits us, because we are also seed wheat producers,” says Nathan Rea, who farms near Milton-Freewater, Oregon.
The identity preservation that Rea’s family farm does for seed wheat matches what’s required for high-fiber wheat.
“When you have an identity-preserved product, you have to keep it separate all the way through the growing and harvesting process,” says Rea.
Yields aren’t at the point that Bay States Milling wants. “The varieties have been underperforming compared with our high-yielding conventional varieties bred for our area,” adds Rea. “We are a few years away from getting top-yielding varieties.”
So far, though, premiums have made up for yield shortfalls, he says. Disease resistance is also excellent. “Progressive farms can grow this crop and provide the extra service it needs,” says Rea.