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The Kneading Conference began in 2007 with a few tents and mobile ovens in a church parking lot. Now those tents and ovens congregate at the Skowhegan fairgrounds each July, drawing people from all over the world to Maine for hands-on bread workshops, for talks and presentations on all the things that lead to bread – especially ovens and grains.

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Ciril HitzThe Kneading Conference, held annually in Skowhegan, Maine, brings together people who love bread: from growing and milling the grains to baking and tasting the finished product, and everything in between. Each year amateur and professional bakers, farmers, earth oven enthusiasts and food fanatics gather for two days of seminars, hands-on workshops, social networking and, of course, delicious food.

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Designed by Jack Lazor, Butterworks Farm This small scale grain dryer is a scaled down version of a larger flat bottomed aeration grain bin. The vessel consists of corrugated, galvanized rings from a six-foot diameter hopper bottom farm grain bin. Instead of placing these rings on a cement foundation, as would be done with a larger stationary bin, the rings are installed on top of a scaled plywood box built around a frame of three inch channel iron.

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Matt Williams, whose core farm principle is to help build the food community of Maine, discussed his experiences with growing organic grains for a decade and processing his and others’ organic grains for five years at his Aurora Mills & Farms in Linneus, in Aroostook County. Some 40,000 to 60,000 acres of small grains grow in Aroostook, primarily barley (half of which is used for malt) and oats.

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Heritage wheatEli Rogosa spoke at Spring Growth about her work with traditional farmers who grow landrace wheat. She explained the hidden crisis of modern “Green Revolution” wheat, the most widely grown crop on earth, which has been “bred by industrial breeders in agrochemical soaked fields for high yield and uniformity.” Nutrition is neglected, said Rogosa, and flavor is forgotten.

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Rick Kersbergen of UMaine Cooperative Extension presented information on a SARE project for growing small winter grains in Maine and Vermont. Small grains might fit into a dairy crop rotation after a corn silage crop to offset corn prices. Kersbergen noted that to feed 10 pounds of barley per cow per day takes about 2 tons per cow per year. For a 60-cow herd, those 120 tons would require 60 acres of land. Winter, or fall-planted, grains are usually planted in early to mid-September. They are well adapted to New England growing conditions, and weed management is much easier with fall- than spring-planted grains.

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Ellen Mallory of the University of Maine reported on weed control tactics in organic cereals for graduate student Lauren Kolb, research associate Tom Molloy and associate professor Eric Gallandt. Mallory said that the primary strategy for weed control in organic cereals now is tine harrowing when weeds are in the white thread stage, which can be very effective when the soil is dry. “You can get weed reduction on the same order as herbicides – maybe 90 percent control.” But if the soil is wet and/or weeds are bigger, control can be as low as 20 percent.

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A two-year study shows that blends of complementary wheat varieties out-yield single varieties, or nonblends, by a mean of 2.3 bushels per acre

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Ecologist Adam Davis, with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Urbana, Illinois, is experimenting with a no-till system in which 7-foot-tall cereal rye is flattened into dense vegetative mats that secure soil and curtail weeds.

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Researchers have designed three heat-loving barley enzymes that perform exceptionally well at temperatures hovering above 70 degrees C., or about 160 degrees F. Thanks to their heat tolerance, these enzymes can yield up to 30% more sugar than enzymes in conventional barley lines.

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Minnesota grain farmers could make more money by switching to organic grain crops, says a four-year study conducted at the Swan Lake Research Farm near Morris, Minnesota. The study analyzed economic risks and transition effects of switching to organic farming.

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Jalko Farm slopes east and north along a windy rise in Madawaska, Maine. The dirt driveway and dark brown barns are home to Northern-Most Feeds, LLC, whose owners make organic chicken, pig, goat and cattle feed from Maine-grown oats and wheat midds (a byproduct of milling wheat for flour) and from New England-grown corn and soy.

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Maine’s cool climate and uniform rainfall favor barley production. Barley rapidly develops an extensive root system and needs a moderately deep, well-drained soil. Timing of several management practices is critical to obtain optimum yield and quality.

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