Friday, February 25, 2011

Proposed Federal Cuts threaten to eliminate USDA-ARS bread wheat program

Monday morning I received an email that emphasized the reality that it was Monday morning. The email was from Dr David Marshall, plant pathologist and geneticist, and research leader of the USDA-ARS Plant Science Research Unit in Raleigh, NC. Dr Marshall is the lead researcher for the Uniform Bread Wheat trials. His email informed me that, in short, the entire wheat research program may be wiped out by the proposed Federal budget cuts.
This program has been the foundation by which our project has established sure footing. If it were not for Dr Marshall's work, us bakers would not have pulled our chairs into a circle and begun the conversation (2 years ago this month) as to how we can establish direct relationships with growers in the Carolinas. We like our quality wheat and had relied on the high quality and performance of our Midwestern supply. But Dr Marshall's varieties (all old school breeding-- no GMOs) have worked in the bakery and in the field -- the first regionally adapted modern bread wheats to be released in the southeast. We have rallied behind Dr Marshall's work, and we plan to launch Carolina Ground, L3C by Sept 2011.
But the story is about more than us bakers-- the ability to grow bread wheat in the Carolinas has had a rippling effect, not only amongst bakeries statewide, but also amongst other grain users, and potential grain users. The Riverbend Malthouse, also to be located in Asheville, is in its formative stages with plans to be online by fall of 2011 using local organic barley, wheat, and rye. WIth over thirty microbreweries throughout the state and another fifty in the combined surrounding states of Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia (and of course, more than a dozen in WNC), a malthouse was the logical next step. There is also a growing movement in craft distilleries. Top of the Hill Distillery in Chapel Hill is on track to open in 2011, producing vodka, gin, bourbon, and rum with local and organic grain. And receptive to all of this, Dr Marshall has incorporated two and six-row barley as well as rye into his trials.
We have been so lucky in NC to not only have the growing interest in local, but already existing markets for organic grains-- Lindley Mills, Bay State, and Braswell Milling, as well as a burgeoning movement in smaller scale grain users that want to source their grain locally. Having the markets is only one piece. The work of Dr Marshall continues to be essential to the long term viability of regional grain commerce. Access to regionally adapted seed is key. This is all public breeding of public varieties, something that is practically nonexistent in corn and soybeans (GMO, private company breeding). I can't stress enough the significance of protecting the work of Dr Marshall and his team.
So please, if you are reading this blog, you must be interested in the future of real bread, so please let your representative know how you feel on this matter.
The nitty-gritty details: US House of Representatives passed H.R.1, the proposed Continuing Resolution for the Federal Government last Thursday. The Bill now goes to the Senate, then to Conference Committee, then to the President to sign (or not). The Bill contains $185.1 million or about 22% cut to the USDA-Agricultural Research Service. This proposed reduction would result in the elimination of $2 million from the USDA-ARS program in Raleigh, NC, which is the total amount for the wheat research program. This includes 4 Project Leaders and 12 support staff.
At present, influence would be best excercised on the NC Senators (Richard Burr and Kay Hagan); then on the North Carolina Representatives in the House who voted for the Bill (all the Republican Party Representatives).
I will post more details soon-- I think those sitting on the Appropriations Committee will be key figures to contact, so I need to do a little homework. But for now- get contact info at:
From the ground up,