Monday, November 30, 2009

Growing Wheat on Vancouver Island

Eat Magazine has an interesting article in this month's issue about growing wheat on Vancouver Island. Actually they will be covering this over this and the next two issues. I experimented with growing wheat in 2008 and did not find it particularly useful project.

There is something romantic about being able to buy bread that has been made from locally grown wheat. You can buy local wheat at For Good Measure Bulk Food in Cadboro Bay for a price of $3.30 to $4.40 a kilo - a lot more than the less than $10 I pay for 10 kg. It is not only expensive, growing it locally is not a good use of the land.

You can buy bread made with local wheat at Fol Epi, True Grain in Cowichan Bay, The Roost and Wildfire bakery.

The problem with wheat is that does not produce a lot per acre, one should expect to harvest about 2.5 tonnes per acre. This is not unreasonable in areas where the land can not be readily used for other crops - such as on the prairies. On Vancouver Island this does not make sense.

An acre on the Saanich peninsula could produce the following:
  • 20 tonnes of tomatoes
  • 12 tonnes of strawberries
  • 20 tonnes of apples
  • 3 tonnes of grapes
  • 25 tonnes of carrots

Growing wheat on this land makes no sense for best use of the land, the farmer's business or food security. We have land here that con do so much more.

In the distant past wheat was grown here because we did not have the transportation infrastructure to move the wheat around as easily as today. To move back to growing wheat means moving backwards in how we use the land.

Wheat stores well and transports well, you can move it in bulk by train. Tomatoes, apples, berries and other fresh crops do not travel nearly as well and require trucks. Each kilo of wheat that is grown here displaces the potential of close to eight kilos of produce. Each train car load of wheat we grow here means we need about 20 semi trailer loads of produce to be trucked here from elsewhere. This means local wheat has an interesting impact of CO2 emissions through the loss of local land for other local production.
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