From VIRGINIA GRAZIANI
The Redwood Times
Thanks to Doug Mosel
For the past five years, a small group of Humboldt County farmers has been working to revive local grain production, researching and experimenting with different varieties to find out what was grown historically and what works best in local conditions.
Kevin Cunningham of Shakefork Farms in Carlotta, Dan Primerano of Redway and John LaBoyteaux of Camp Grant Ranch near Weott, while not yet rivaling the grain production of the Midwest, Northwest and California’s Central Valley, have produced enough grain to sell at farmers markets and to local bakers and natural food stores.
LaBoyteaux, now retired from raising fruits and vegetables for farmers markets, spent his “free time” this season growing four varieties of wheat. Although he planted only a little more than four acres, all the varieties did well, with better-than-expected yields.
This year LaBoyteaux focused on “hard red” wheats, the type best suited for making bread. In past years he tried smaller amounts of several varieties of “soft white” wheat, which is preferred for pastry.
To a novice looking at the wheat, it seems almost impossible to tell “hard red” from “soft white,” but the hard grain is harder to grind than the soft grain, and red grains do have a reddish tint compared to the lighter, brown-toned color of white wheat.
LaBoyteaux’s star performer this year is ‘Kelse,’ a spring wheat from the Skagit Valley of northwest Washington. Because it was developed for a wet climate, it did particularly well in this year’s long, wet spring.
Two acres of Kelse at Camp Grant yielded 5,000 pounds of grain. LaBoyteaux believes this may be the best yield anyone has had locally, with the previous high yield estimated at 1,700 pounds per acre.
Besides Kelse, LaBoyteaux planted an acre each of two winter wheats, ‘Expresso’ from the Sacramento Valley and ‘Red Fife,’ an heirloom wheat generally grown in the Dakotas and Canada.
Although winter wheats are typically planted in the late fall or early winter, so that they can take advantage of winter precipitation in dry climates, these varieties can be planted later in Humboldt County, where rainfall