MOUNT VERNON — New grain varieties grown in the Skagit Valley are leading to increased profits for farmers and better products for bakers and brewers.
Growers, business owners and others shared this success Thursday at a roundtable discussion at Farmstrong Brewing in Mount Vernon hosted by U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene.
Bread Lab Director Stephen Jones said since the lab’s wheat breeding program started in 2011, a new economy has formed around locally grown grains that are milled and processed here for bread, beer and other products.
“(The grain) should stay where it’s produced,” he said. “That’s the definition of a regional economy.”
Farmers have seen benefits, too.
For years, growers relied on wheat as a rotation crop to enrich soil and reduce disease but failed to turn a profit on the commodity market, said Dave Hedlin of Hedlin Farms. That has changed with the growth and demand for new grains.
“We’re growing grain for fun and profit (now),” he said.
Larsen and DelBene’s visit also featured a tour of the brewing room at Farmstrong Brewing. 100% of Farmstrong's beers use local grains, a switch that began in March, said Thane Tupper, head brewer at Farmstrong.
To keep up with demand, the brewery plans to install two new brewing tanks and equipment to can beer, Tupper said.
“Being able to source a material 10 miles of where it was grown is unheard of,” he said.
Port of Skagit Executive Director Patsy Martin said a new brand strategy to market Skagit Valley products, unveiled in January, is expected to benefit growers and processors.
Larsen said the Farm Bill, passed by Congress last December, was a win for funds that support value-added agriculture, organic research and more.
One challenge is the increasing threat from flooding events and the need to maintain infrastructure that protects farmland, DelBene said.
Public perception is also important, as is the need to highlight agriculture’s importance to the economy and area.