Value-added grains for local and regional food systems


2012 to 2015


Small grains provide multiple benefits to organic farms, but are often underutilized because of their relatively low economic value. Our value added grains project has added value in multiple ways to wheat and specialty grain crops to substantially increase their production and enhance the diversity and sustainability of organic farms. By providing the farmer with rotation options the efficiency of production is increased for the farmer and thereby resulting in higher profits. Specialty grains grown organically are environmentally friendly crops and help reduce soil erosion.


Small grains are grown on about 400,000 acres of New York farms annually but are often underutilized in organic management systems because of their relatively low economic value. High value specialty grains varieties with high yields, resistance to plant diseases and high grain quality are required for our farmers to remain competitive domestically and internationally. Consumers' increased preference for healthy and safe food products has increased demand for organically grown foods that not only taste good but also help to prevent heart disease and cancer. Locally produced farm products can result in substantial savings to the industry and to New York and help maintain local economic vitality and reduce energy consumption. Cornell has the only active small grains breeding program in the Northeast region that is developing and testing high value specialty grains grown organically.


We have conducted extensive evaluation of heritage wheat, spelt, emmer, and einkorn varieties to determine their performance under organic management. We have identified several high-value specialty grains that farmers can use in organic production systems in rotation with vegetables. Grains are environmentally friendly crops due to their low requirements for inputs and adaptability to organic management and they help prevent soil erosion.


The identification of specialty grain varieties adapted to organic management has multiple benefits for the farmer and consumer. Even a small increase in acreage can result in millions of dollars in increased income to the New York organic grains farmer annually. Consumers are the ultimate beneficiaries of this project because the results are healthier, safer, cheaper food products that are produced locally. The livestock industry benefits from cheaper feed, and the food processing industry benefits from access to locally produced raw materials. A healthy farm economy depends on locally adapted, competitive varieties of all crops and, in turn, contributes to the New York state economy. Because small grains are low-input crops that are well adapted to organic management, they contribute to environmental conservation and a clean environment.

Submitted by: 

  • Sorrells, Mark E

Researchers involved: 

  • Sorrells, Mark E

Organizations involved: 

  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • PASA
  • Greenmarket
  • North Dakota State Univ

International focus: 

  • Canada
  • United States of America

United States focus: 

  • Maine
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • Vermont