Written by Jose Perez, OFRF’s Research & Education Engagement Coordinator

Bob Quinn is a well-known fourth generation organic farmer growing grains in the plains of Montana. His farm grows winter wheat, alfalfa, and other grains. Bob is a long time organic farmer and advocate and is recognized as the pioneer of Kamut, a type of wheat that is now produced by more than 250 organic producers. His latest venture is the Quinn Institute, a recently launched non profit farm dedicated to conducting organic farming research. This year he is also a participating farmer in the first cohort of OFRF’s Farmer Led Trials (FLT) Program.

Image at right: A view of the research plot crop lines growing in May.

A quest for a hardy white winter wheat

Growing spring wheat in this region has become increasingly risky for farmers due to climate change challenges that include shorter rainy seasons and earlier than usual summer heat onset. Years ago Bob felt that growing a hardy and resilient white winter wheat was a good solution, but he found no locally adapted varieties available. Winter wheat varieties are planted in the fall, go dormant in the winter, and are harvested in the summer. These varieties have more time to get established and could reduce the risk of crop loss due to the climate change patterns mentioned above. Bob looked for options that would show promise in the genetic diversity stored in the USDA National Small Grain Seed Collection. When Bob heard about OFRF’s Farmer-Led Trials Program, he thought it would be a good opportunity for research collaboration.

The farm trial

Starting with 100 selections from the USDA small grains collection, Bob has now winnowed down possible wheat lines to 15 types that show promise in the field. From the baker and consumer perspectives, Bob hopes to select a nutrient-dense wheat that produces bread loaves that are not as dark as those produced with hard red winter wheat.

Harvest from each line will be tested through a bake test for loaf size, texture, taste and aroma by our bakery partner, Grist Mills, in Missoula, Montana, and compared to a complete baking test by the bread lab at Montana State University. The goal for this year’s farm trial is to select the top 5 or 6 lines to be grown again next year. The final goal of this research project is to produce a free, open mixed population of white winter wheat that can be used by organic farmers in the region that can be used by bakers to produce a highly nutritious tasty bread for their customers.

Below images: Bob, and Research Coordinator Josh, inspecting winter wheat survival in mid-April.

“Many farmers do not know where to start, how to proceed and what to do when problems arise and therefore are reluctant to convert to organic systems.  Programs such as those sponsored by OFRF help farmers overcome transition barriers and also overcome challenges along the way.  When I saw an opportunity to participate in farmer-led trials sponsored by OFRF, I was immediately interested. These are the kinds of opportunities that help farmers answer questions specific to their operation which in the end could have significant positive impacts for many others across the country and even the world.  They fill a gap between no help and the giant multiyear grants and projects, which also play an important roll, but most of which are beyond the reach or means of most farmers to apply for and to execute.  I am very thankful for the resources offered by OFRF to insure the experiments can be designed and carried out in a manner that can produce significant results.” – Bob Quinn

Trial updates

The current crop was planted in October last year, survived the winter, and is currently growing vigorously, thanks to better than expected rainy season. Harvest is fast approaching, and scheduled for late July. OFRF is excited about Bob’s trial and hopes it leads to resilient variety alternatives for organic farmers.

To learn more about USDA germplasm resources, visit the USDA Germplasm Resources Information Network https://npgsweb.ars-grin.gov/gringlobal/search  

To learn more about the Quinn Institute visit https://quinninstitute.org/ or take a peek at this recent article about their work: https://www.prweb.com/releases/agricultures-new-frontier-the-quinn-institute-unveiled-302134818.html

This story is part of a series profiling farmers who are taking part in OFRF’s Farmer Led Trials (FLT) program. Farmers receive technical support from OFRF to address their challenges through structured on-farm trials. To learn more about OFRF Farmer Led Trials Program, visit our website page at https://ofrf.org/research/farmer-led-research-trials/