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Small Grains Could Be Newest Wing of Farm-to-Table Movement

Small grains such as barley and rye help reduce nutrient runoff on farms. (Halee Wepking/Meadowlark Farm)
Small grains such as barley and rye help reduce nutrient runoff on farms. (Halee Wepking/Meadowlark Farm)
June 11, 2019

RIDGEWAY, Wis. — An event at the end of June is highlighting the important role small grains play in Wisconsin.

From Grain to Plate Field Day will take place June 30 on Meadowlark Farm in southwest Wisconsin. The aim is to bring growers, processors and consumers together to explore why grains such as wheat, barley, oats and rye matter to the region.

Halee Wepking of Meadowlark Farm said these crops can help farms stay economically viable and improve growers' conservation efforts. She hopes small grains can become a bigger part of the local food movement.

"The farm-to-table movement has really focused on produce and eggs and meat production,” Wepking said. “But there's also staple crops that are a part of that - so, obviously, grains and beans."

Small grains are important for bakers and chefs as well as brewers and distillers. Wepking said equitable access to locally grown crops is one of the field day's focuses. It also will include a tour of the farm and a rainfall simulator to illustrate the effects of erosion and infiltration.

John Wepking, Halee's husband and manager of Meadowlark Farm, said small-grain production helps extend their conventional corn and soybean rotation and, he added, they are an environmentally friendly way to control weeds. Small grains also reduce soil erosion, pull up nutrients to increase soil health and reduce nutrient runoff, protecting local water quality.

Wepking said most farmers in the region have the ability to grow these crops.

"They have drills; their combines can harvest oats. Everyone has all of the tools, for the most part, in their shed to grow these crops,” he said. “But the challenge is having reliable and profitable markets for them."

The field day is sponsored by the Upland Watershed Group and Pecatonica Pride Watershed Association and includes partnerships with organizations such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin Farmers Union and Michael Fields Agricultural Institute.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WI