Spelt research takes wheat back to the future
Growing demand for spelt, an ancient variety of wheat recognised for its health benefits, has led to new research into an old plant.
NSW Department of Primary Industries scientists are running selection trials to lift spelt yields without compromising its important nutritional and milling characteristics.
NSW DPI researcher, David Luckett, said the Australian Winter Cereals Collection at the Department’s Tamworth research station has provided 43 spelt varieties which have been held in long-term cold storage.
“We are now growing the 43 genotypes in glasshouse trials at the EH Graham Centre in Wagga Wagga and they have revealed a vast range of characteristics,” Dr Luckett said.
“They vary from early spring to winter types with striking differences in plant height, degree of tillering, leaf size and number, plant colour and ear shape.
“Once sufficient seed is available, we will evaluate the best varieties on organic farms and on certified organic land at the NSW DPI’s Yanco Agricultural Research Institute.”
Spelt, producing up to 16 per cent protein, can be used in bread, pasta and other flour or grain-based foods.
An important feature of spelt is its grain and flour quality which differs from modern wheat.
Dr Luckett said it would be vital to test the quality of any promising varieties to ensure they meet the requirements of spelt processors and consumers.
“Spelt will grow throughout the wheat belt and organic growers need locally-adapted varieties that suit their individual conditions and which can be bred naturally to evolve under natural selection,” he said.
NSW DPI Cootamundra agronomist, Phil Bowden, has sown field trials using seeds provided by local organic farmers.
“Spelt is well-suited to organic systems, it’s resistant to pests and diseases and tends to have a prostrate growth habit when young which helps suppress weeds,” Mr Bowden said.
“There’s a huge advantage for farmers if they don’t need to spray for pests and diseases or to control weeds.”
Organic farmer, David Booth, has been growing spelt at “Buronga” near Cootamundra for the last three years and has provided seed for the NSW DPI research project.
“Spelt fits in with our livestock production system. We’ve already grazed this season’s crop twice and expect a good grain harvest this season,” said Mr Booth.
“While it’s not a high-yielding crop there’s a premium paid for organic spelt and in the future we hope the NSW DPI trials will deliver higher yielding varieties.”
Contact Phil Bowden, 6942 4957, Dr David Luckett, 6938 1835 or Robyn Neeson, 6951 2735 for more information on the NSW DPI spelt selection trials.
This story appears in Agriculture Today.