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UMaine professors research small grains in a collaborative project

The University of Maine is assisting in research funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help bolster the small grains industry. Cornell University is leading the research which involves researchers from universities nationwide.

Two researchers from the University of Maine, Ellen Mallory and Jonathan Malacarne, have joined the endeavor alongside researchers from the University of Vermont, the University of Illinois, the University of Wisconsin, South Dakota State University and Oregon State University. Mallory is a professor of sustainable agriculture at UMaine and Malacarne is an assistant professor of agricultural economics.

The point of the research is to exemplify the uses of small grain farming in larger agricultural projects. Because small grains such as barley, oats and rye oftentimes have less value in the agricultural economy, they often go underutilized by farmers. The research seeks to find variants of these small grain crops that will have more value and uses in strengthening supply chains.

USDA’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, has allotted around $2 million in grant money to the research initiative. $332,967 is being allotted to UMaine for the research.

Mallory, along with Thomas Molloy, a sustainable agriculture research associate, will be researching the ability of farmers in Maine to produce high-caliber grains through organic production in Maine’s climate. Some of the varieties of grain they will be assessing include wheat, rye, emme and naked varieties of barley and oats, which they will begin to grow in Rogers Farm in Old Town. From there, they will select promising varieties to grow on other farms throughout the state. The varieties will be assessed on the basis of factors such as taste and baking characteristics.

The two will also be looking into the reasons some varieties of grain have higher survival rates in the winter.

“Winter grains, which are planted in the fall and harvested the next summer, have many benefits for organic farmers,” Mallory told the Daily Bulldog. “They compete aggressively with weeds, protect the soil over the winter, alleviate spring workloads and yield more than spring types.”

Malacarne’s research will be centered around the demand for small grains, and how small farmers can reasonably meet those demands in institutions like health care and academic environments. 

“[Institutions represent a] stable, high-volume market, and many want to source more local food,” Malacarne told the Daily Bulldog., “They also have different preferences than other consumers, requiring a consistent supply of high-quality product at a competitive price.”

These research teams will be working to collaborate with partners in the food industry, as well as farmers around the state of Maine. Among these farmers are Amber Lambke of Skowhegan, the owner of Maine Grains, and a member of the project’s advisory board, as well as Matt Williams, the owner of Aurora Mills and Farm in Linneus.

The Cornell-led research began in September of last year, however, Mallory, Molloy and Malacarne will begin their research this coming August. The research will conclude in August of 2023.


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