Perennial Wheat with Steven Jones
Stephen Jones is a wheat breeder and the Director of the Washington State University – Mount Vernon Research Center. He teaches graduate courses in advanced classical genetics and in the history and ethics of genetics. His first wheat crop was on five acres at Chico State University’s student farm in 1977. Together with his graduate students he breeds wheat and other grains for small farms in underserved areas of the Pacific Northwest. He also runs The Bread Lab, the only public laboratory in the US devoted solely to craft milling and baking of non-commodity grains.
Though often relegated as a “commodity crop," wheat is a powerful tool. On organic farms, it’s often used to prevent diseases in crops and feed animals. Doctor Stephen S. Jones, Director of Washington State University’s Research and Extension Center at Mt. Vernon has been studying wheat since the 1970s. His goal? A more self-sufficient, perennial wheat crop that isn’t reliant on chemical fertilizers or excessive watering, but instead is beneficial to local communities.
Douglas Gayeton: What role can wheat play as a central element in a diversified farming system?
Steven Jones: Wheat is critical in a highly diverse system for several reasons. A lot of vegetable and flower growers rotate their crops with wheat and barley to break disease cycles. They also use wheat as a way to add organic matter back into the soil. That’s particularly important after growing crops like potatoes or tulip bulbs. Wheat can add a tremendous amount of organic matter.
Wheat also has an important role in diverse farming systems where animals are integrated. Feeding wheat, barley and other grains is a common practice, especially among organic farmers. From poultry all the way up to dairy, you see a lot of organic grains other than corn. Wheat gets dismissed as being a big commodity crop, but it’s common in small farms as well. In Skagit Valley where we are, we grow 80 different crops commercially and almost every one of those rotates with wheat at some point.