Organic Alberta hosted a conference in Strathmore on March 3, 2014. A panel of organic wheat growers (Bernie Ehnes and Marc Gibeau) from Southern Alberta described their experience with Red Fife. Of its redeeming qualities, Red Fife grows vigorously and tall (outcompeting weeds), yields well when compared with other modern varieties, doesn’t appear to susceptible to rust or fusarium (at least in this area), and perhaps most importantly, is in high demand from regional bakers and home-bakers, as it has a unique, nutty flavour. Bakers have been successful in producing breads (and even croissants!) with Red Fife flour.
The downsides of the crop is that Red Fife’s height causes two problems: a high amount of straw makes combining slow, and the tall crop is prone to lodging, making it susceptible to sprouting and disease.
While Red Fife is not a registered variety, there are several growers in Canada who now grow it, and there is plenty of seed available. Most make the most out of it by selling direct to consumers and value-adding: either by packaging in small bags and direct-shipping (as Ernie does), or by milling it and delivering to local bakeries (as Marc does). Marc adds further value by using a stone mill that rotates at a slow speed, preventing rapid spoilage of the flour which is caused by high heat from steel roller-milling.
Because it is not registered in Canada, moving Red Fife in large quantities could be difficult. But growers who keep production small and are willing to build strong ties with to local bakers interested in a unique product, may have found their niche.
Here’s a list of some Red Fife growers in the Prairies:
Loiselle Organic Family Farm: https://sites.google.com/site/loisellema/page2
Heritage Harvest: http://www.heritage-harvest.ca/
Ehnes Organic: http://www.ehnesorganic.com/faith-red-fife.html
Gold Forest Grains: http://goldforestfarms.blogspot.ca/p/flour-and-heritage-grains-sales.html
To learn more about the history of Red Fife wheat in Canada, visit this site.
To see how Red Fife performed against other wheat crops in organic systems in California, visit this site for a study performed by the Organic Seed Allaince.