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Arizona’s wheat – all it’s cracked up to be

September 15, 2010

Wheat is one of the world’s oldest and most important crops grown and Arizona is a big player in the wheat field!

(photo courtesy wikimedia.com)

A report recently released by British scientists decoded the genetic sequence of wheat – a development they hope can help breed better strains of this global food staple. Because wheat is grown across more of the world’s farmlands than any other crop, researchers hope that by posting the genetic code they uncovered, they hope farmers can use the information as a tool to improve the yields of their wheat crops. University of Liverpool scientist Neil Hall was quoted as saying that the code, “would serve as the reference — the starting point that new technology and new science can be built upon.” He explained that the information could “help farmers better identify genetic variations responsible for disease resistance, drought tolerance and yield.” The genetic information that was published is incomplete and additional analysis needs to be undertaken.

 The cracking of wheat’s code comes at a time when wheat prices have shot up in the wake of crop failures in Russia, concerns over climate change, water shortages and population growth. New risks to wheat crops include a destructive mutant form of stem rust. The reddish, wind-borne fungus has devastated wheat crops in places such as Kenya, where up to 80 percent of the wheat in afflicted farmers’ fields have been ruined.

The news contained in the report rippled through the Arizona farming and wheat growing community as Arizona is known for its Durum Wheat – a crop that is in a category all its own. Because of Arizona’s warm, arid climate, the durum wheat thrives in the long, hot days and cool nights. The wheat that is produced is very dry, with a dark golden color and is used to make pasta. Durum wheat is also known for its high gluten strength and high protein levels – both elements lend themselves toward the production of quality flour.

 In 2009, Arizona farmers planted 132,000 acres of wheat, which yielded 12,825,000 bushels; of that wheat, durum comprised 125,000 acres and yielded 12,400,000 bushels.

 There are many recipes that use wheat but why not try this Wheat Farmer’s Salad?

 ¾ tsp sea salt

½ tsp cracked black pepper

2 celery stalks, diced

2-3 scallions, diced

1 apple, cut into ¼ inch cubes

1 tbsp diced red onion

½ cup each dried cranberries, chopped walnuts, chopped fresh parsley

¼ cup dried, diced pineapple

1 cup hard wheat berries

3 cups water

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup apple or orange juice

2 tbls each rice vinegar and agave nectar, honey or maple sugar

 Directions

Place wheat berries in a pan and cover with water by a little more than an inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer 50-60 minutes or until berries are tender. Add more water during cooking if needed. Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine oil, juice, rice vinegar, sweetener, salt and pepper. Set aside. Once the berries are cooked, drain excess water then place wheat berries in a large bowl. Add ½ the dressing and stir, let sit until wheat berries have cooled to room temperature. Once they’ve cooled, stir in the remaining ingredients, toss gently and serve cold. Recipe provided by Tiffany Shedd, Cotton Shedd.

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