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Va. farmers urged to try hard red winter wheat
By JANE W. GRAHAM
ROANOKE, Va. (March 28, 2017) — Leaders in Virginia’s wheat industry are working to expand acres of hard red winter wheat in the state, promoting its profit potential and new cultivars developed recently at Virginia Tech.
During a tour of The Mennel Milling Company of Virginia’s mill on March 17, wheat growers and advocates for the crop, Chuck King and Dan Brann of Montgomery County talked with plant manager Jim Weidner about the facility and getting more Virginia-grown hard red winter wheat there.
Brann and King said soft wheat is easier to grow but the hard red winter wheat can be more profitable.
Weidner said Mennel would like to be able to have more local sources and build relationships with growers and lower transportation costs.
King was the winner of the 2016 Virginia Wheat Yield Contest with 86 bushels per acre he grew in Montgomery County, Va. and Brann was second with 80 bushels per acre, also in Montgomery County and Weidner discussed the possibilities.
King and Brann are farming partners and Brann is retired from Virginia Tech as an Extension small grains specialist.
The third place winner, Paul Davis, a Middlesex County, Va., farmer and general manager of Virginia Identity Preserved Grains is also involved in the effort but could not join the tour.
Weidner said Mennel, which has supported the wheat research at Virginia Tech, is willing to pay a premium for hard red winter wheat, a factor that could make a big difference in a bottom line at a time when wheat prices are low.
Weidner said he currently gets hard red spring wheat from North Dakota and the prairie providences of Canada and some from Minnesota, hard red winter wheat from Virginia, Kansas and Nebraska and soft red wheat from Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and Illinois.
Brann said the seed for two of the Virginia Tech hard red winter wheat varieties, Vision 45 and Vision 50, developed by Virginia Tech plant breeder Carl Griffey, will be available for wheat growers to purchase in the fall of 2017 if they decide to grow the new lines.
The farmers and Mennel are hoping for 12,000 to 15,000 acres of this kind of wheat can be planted in the fall. The flour mill began producing flour and other wheat products in 2007 and new hard red winter wheat lines released during this decade by Virginia Tech are a big part of that, Brann and King said.
Hard wheat has been grown in Virginia for the past 10 years, according to Mennel
Mennel has the advantage of being a “swing mill,” one that can mill both soft and hard wheats. It can also mill blends.
Weidner guided his guests through the six-story mill explaining how raw wheat is turned into flour and other usable by-products including bran and wheat germ.
Guests had to wear hard hats, hair and beard nets and earplugs to enter noisy sparkling clean production areas.
They rode the elevators to the top floor where the process begins and made the trip down the steps to see where different processes on each lower floor were turning raw wheat into flour.
It ended where flour is sifted through screens so fine the openings are not visible to the naked eye.
Most flour produced at the mill is then loaded onto rail cars or trucks to be transported to the companies who turn the wheat into different foods.