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August 9, 2020

This week, we dig into the long-term research efforts AGC facilitates to support development of grain varieties that function well both in the field and in the kitchen. Read on to learn about our core partners in this research: University of Illinois Pilot Processing Plants and University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Seed to Kitchen Collaborative & Small Grains Breeding Program.

—Alyssa Hartman, AGC Executive Director

The University of Illinois’ (U of I) pilot-scale facilities—the Food Science & Human Nutrition Pilot Processing Plant and the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Lab (Pilot Plants)—were opened in 2018 after much construction and renovation. The goal of these facilities is to engage and provide resources to U of I students, researchers, the area community, and industry clients in food and bioprocessing. Full of dozens of specialized machines and pieces of equipment, the Pilot Plants are fun-factories for food testing and processing, equipped to perform a range of functions on fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and grains. Full equipment lists for the facilities can be viewed here and here.

The work done in the Pilot Plants and the efforts of its staff range widely. In one afternoon, the Pilot Plants’ Assistant Director Brian Jacobson may be working with a food scientist from an international agribusiness company, providing space, supplies, and expertise for them to conduct proprietary research, while simultaneously helping students process hundreds of pounds of tomatoes grown on U of I’s sustainable student farm, creating pizza sauce for the campus’ dining centers. 

Specific to research and efforts related to the development of niche food-grade grain markets, the Pilot Plants are a critical AGC partner. Brian chairs AGC’s Variety Testing Working Group—coordinating farmers, processors, and researchers—and works with AGC staff to advance technical support for the regional grain value chain. With support from a USDA LFPP (Local Food Promotion Program) grant awarded in 2017, the Pilot Plants have conducted compositional testing on hundreds of grain samples grown in research stations and on Midwestern farms over the last several years including many varieties of barley, rye, and wheat. This data establishes important technical parameters that help researchers and bakers understand which grain varieties are likely to perform well for specific culinary functions, particularly artisan bread baking.

While COVID-19 has significantly disrupted typical business protocols for many of the Pilot Plants’ operations—the space has been primarily utilized for large-scale hand sanitizer production since April—some initiatives have forged ahead. In March, the Pilot Plants began installing a still and other grain fermentation equipment (shown above) to support craft distilling research. Over the next year, the Pilot Plants will be working with U of I grad, farmer, and distiller Will Glazik of Cow Creek Farm to test five varieties of heritage, open-pollinated corn for yield and flavor composition compared to yellow #2 dent corn most commonly used in whisky production. This NCR SARE-funded research will be instrumental in helping area farmers to make good planting decisions around corn varieties that are desirable to spirits producers.

To learn more about the Pilot Plants, check out the links below and read on to learn how they supported AGC’s bake test this spring. Last summer, Brian hosted AGC members for a tour of the Pilot Plants, which you can read about here.




Bakers convened at Madison Sourdough from across the Upper Midwest region. Pictured (L-R): Melina Kelson, Keo Corak, Julie Dawson, Halee Wepking, Greg Wade, Solveig Tofte, Kirk Smock, Chris Massman, Matt Kronschnable, Pablo Sandro, and Andrew Hutchison. 


This spring, AGC helped to convene a group of bakers from across the region (shown above) to test out varieties of wheat and hulless barley grown by University of Wisconsin-Madison's Small Grains Breeding Program and area farmers—the culmination of more than a year’s work led by Dr. Julie Dawson.

This is the first variety trial and baking test AGC has coordinated in partnership with UW-Madison researchers, and we look forward to continued partnership in the future! Funding to support this work came from a USDA Local Food Promotion Program grant. To learn more about the process and results, continue reading here.

Image: Jas McDaniel Photography

Earlier this year, we sent a note to let readers know that the first Kernza® grain was available for pre-order from Perennial Pantry. We're excited to report that those orders are currently being shipped out, and they've also launched a new site to share feedback and recipes for their accompanying Citizen Science effort. 

Image: Beth Dooley's Kitchen


Neighbor Loaves in the News - We’ve continued to get exciting coverage of the Neighbor Loaves initiative including features of Bird Dog Baking, Madison Sourdough, and Muddy Fork Farm & Bakery this week, plus a mention in Edible Madison.

This article about Meadowlark Organics was also recently published, which gives an update about their new mill currently under construction on the farm in Ridgeway, WI.

Image: Jenny Haglund / Bird Dog Baking

AGC's Brewing & Distilling Working Group recently enjoyed a presentation from author Doug Hoverson about the history of brewing—and malting—in Wisconsin and Minnesota. We're pleased to share the video recording of the presentation, which includes historic documents and photos that tell a fascinating story. For example, breweries used to advertise "cash for barley!" 
We're going monthly for August and September, so catch you again next month!
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