Ecological Agriculture Projects Logo

EAP Publications | Virtual Library | Magazine Rack | Search | What's new

Join the Ecological  Solutions Roundtable


Cereal Varieties for Organic Farming

Research results, EFRC and research establishments In Germany, have established that as a general rule modern cereal varieties, with their improved partitioning of yield and disease resistance, are superior to the old varieties such as Squarehead Masters. Having said this, the selection criteria for organic cereals do differ to some extent from those for conventional cereals. Yield is obviously of importance, an is quality. Competitive ability against weeds is of greater importance in organic cereals and is related to crop height, canopy structure, tillering and rooting, all of which are also related to resource capture. Disease pressure is generally less severe in organic cereals and, therefore, is of comparatively less importance.


Milling: Gone are the days when an organic wheat will automatically command an organic milling premium. Millers are unlikely to accept a sample for milling if it has a protein content of less than 10.5% and they prefer samples to be 11% or above. This sets a difficult task on many light coils and is likely to be beyond all but first wheat after the fertility building phase of a rotation. Correct variety selection, however, is an essential part of the formula.

Other criteria for milling quality include Hagberg Falling Number which is normally required to be in excess of 250 and a minimum specific weight of 76 kg/hl. The SDS-sedimentation volume test in broad terms correlates with protein content, but is a more reliable measure of baking quality and is likely to alter the ranking of some milling varieties.

The first option is between winter and spring varieties. While the higher protein content of spring wheats is more suited to milling, their yield potential is lower and establishment can be difficult on some heavier soils. Of the spring varieties, Axona, Tonic and Cannon have performed well under organic management, though the OAS is aware of some severe lodging problems with some Cannon crops this year. Spring varieties have been sown in the winter, at the beginning of November, in an attempt to achieve higher yields of good quality milling wheat. Although this can be successful, in the experience of the OAS it is a risky option, since the risk of a poor establishment Is high due to poor seed beds, birds, slugs and frost.

Furthermore, spring wheat does not tiller freely and therefore is less able to compensate for a poor start.

As mentioned above, the newer varieties tend to perform better than older ones, Marcia however, which is widely grown conventionally for milling, typically in the experience of the OAS has been disappointing in terms of protein content under organic management, except on very fertile soils. Pastiche has performed well with good protein levels and is accepted by organic millers, despite being classified as becoming outclassed on the NIAB list. Maris Wigeon does produce a good quality wheat but suffers a yield penalty of around 20% compared with modern equivalents. It could therefore be considered on marginal milling wheat growing land. Flanders has been a very successful soft wheat with moderate yield; however, it does have a limited market and it should only be grown after contacting potential buyers.

Promoting new varieties include Hereward and Spark, both of which have good milling qualities and good disease resistance In trials. Soissons also claims to be of milling quality, and to be very early ripening which may allow more time for a pool-harvest weed strike. These varieties however are largely untested on organic field scale production and the OAS, while acknowledging their potential, still reserves judgement on them.

Biscuit making/ Flaking: Where the ability to grow high quality milling wheat is limited by soil or climate, a better option may be to target a different market. Flaking and biscuit wheat production is a serious option under these circumstances. Riband and Admiral have proved to be particularly successful biscuit making varieties, while Fenman, Norman and Apollo can be grown for either market.

Feed: Crowing wheat for feed is not generally recommended by the OAS, since there is not a good premium on organic feed wheat and oats or barley make a more nutritious feed and would be a better option. However, if feed wheat was to be grown the higher yielding varieties, which may also be used for biscuit or flaking, should be used.


Oats can be grown for flaking but they are also the most nutritious cereal livestock feed. The winter oat Peniarth is an older variety that still performs wed, producing a high quality grain. Solva is a newer variety which is proving very successful, with a superior yield though slightly lower quality. Of the spring oats Rollo and

Keeper are better than Dula in terms of their resistance to mildew. which can be a serious disease of organic oats Naked oat are not generally recommended, since the market price dose not compensate for their lower yield.


Barley is not widely grown by OAS clients since the organic malting market is still relatively small. However. the winter barley Marinka can be grown for either flaking or feed and has reasonable though not exceptional disease reactance. The feed barley Firefly has a lower yield potential than Marinka but has very good disease resistance and may therefore be more reliable, though there is little field scale evidence to support this. Of the malting varieties Halcyon winter barley shows the beat disease resistance. The preferred spring barley in the experience of the OAS is Corniche. Atem has been widely grown for malting. on the request of the brewers. Alexis is a newer variety which shows good resistance to mildew and can achieve malting quality.

Hugh Bulson

Copyright 1992.

Info Request | Services | Become EAP Member | Site Map

Give us your comments about the EAP site

Ecological Agriculture Projects, McGill University (Macdonald Campus)
Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC,  H9X 3V9 Canada
Telephone:          (514)-398-7771
Fax:                     (514)-398-7621


To report problems or otherwise comment on the structure of this site, send mail to the Webmaster