Research Yields More Nutritious, Sustainable and Delicious Grains

Field crops such as wheat, which are grown on large-scale acreage, present organic growers with unique challenges in managing weeds, pests and fertility. Dr. Stephen Jones, a professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Washington State University and Director of the WSU Bread Lab, received several OFRF research grants between 2001 and 2003 in support of his development of wheat varieties for organic farmers.

Today, Jones continues to breed wheat for sustainable, perennial and organic systems. He was featured in the Sunday New York Times Magazine on November 1st. In the article, Bread is Broken, Jones explains the history of wheat—from preindustrial wheat, which once “was a living library of flavors,” to modern technologies where “whiteness, hardness and uniformity took precedence over flavor, nutrition and novelty.”

The goal of the western Washington breeding program is to ensure the long-term environmental and economic health of farming in Washington State while producing a food crop that is safe and high in nutritional value. Priority is given to crops grown for local markets in complex systems and rotations.

Each year, Jones, his assistant and graduate students grow between 5,000 and 10,000 kinds of wheat. They have produced wheat with higher than typical levels of iron and other micronutrients, grains that are blue, purple and black; and wheat with flavors such as maltiness, spice and caramel. This fall, Jones will make two of the lines they’ve developed available to farms either for free or at an affordable cost.

One of Jones’ graduate students, Kevin Murphy, worked with Jones on his OFRF funded research. Murphy went on to earn his PhD and is now Assistant Professorin the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at WSU. In 2010, Murphy received a grant from OFRF to research farmer-based evolutionary participatory plant breeding for organic quinoa, buckwheat and spelt, a project initiated by organic farmers who rely heavily on farmer participatory research for success. You can read more about the research here.

In 2014, Murphy received another grant from OFRF to identify barley breeding lines most adapted to organic farmers in Washington State and Northern Idaho. In addition, the researchers propose to develop a truly comprehensive nutritional evaluation of these elite lines. You can read more about Murphy’s research here.

Thanks to Jones and Murphy and their collaboration with farmers, bakers, pastry chefs and restaurant owners, the future of whole grain foods is looking more sustainable, nutritious and flavorful.