Friday, November 4, 2016

Growing Wheat in Alaska -- Facts and Figures

Rachel Saul of Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop invited me to  talk about a paper I finished recently (posted separately) about the history and possible futures of wheat in Alaska. This is the handout that I made for the program (for October 26 and 27, 2016).

The Future of Wheat in Alaska
Wheat farming in Alaska – past, present and possible futures

Image result for creative commons seal of state of alaska

§    How the lack of wheat in Sitka starred in a romantic story of Russian Alaska.
§    What it takes to grow wheat in Alaska in 2016, who grows it, and who buys it.
§    How much wheat Alaskans eat per capita, and where it comes from.
§    How warming temperatures could change wheat farming in Alaska.
§    What that means for local food security and sustainable wheat and grains.

How much flour to make a loaf of bread?
§     One bushel of wheat weighs approximately 60 pounds, and has approximately one million individual kernels.
§     One bushel of wheat yields approximately 42 pounds of white flour OR 60 pounds of whole-wheat flour.
§     A bushel of wheat yields 42 one-and-a-half pound commercial loaves of white bread OR about 90 one-pound loaves of whole wheat bread (because much of the bran and germ are extracted from the whole grains to make white flour). Water or other liquids makes up the remaining weight of the loaf.

How much wheat to feed all of Alaska?
§     In 2010, the average U.S. person ate 134 pounds of wheat flour (not counting breakfast cereals and other ways in which wheat is eaten).
§     Alaska has 737,625 people in 2016, so we need about 98,842,000 pounds of flour each year, or 49,421 tons.
§     Alaska would have to plant 40,772 acres of wheat each year to produce 1,631,000 bushels of wheat.
§     In 2007 Alaska had about 109,000 acres of cropland and pasture: 19,000 acres in the Anchorage-Matanuska-Susitna area, 12,000 acres were in the Fairbanks area, and 72,000 acres were southeast of Fairbanks.
§     In 2015, Alaska produced an estimated 800 bushels of wheat on twenty acres (60 pounds per bushel, and 40 bushels per acre).
§     That equals 24 tons (American tons, at 2,000 pounds each) of wheat in 2015, or less than 1% of the approximately 49,421 tons eaten.

How to grow enough wheat to feed a family of four?
§     A slice of bread is about ½ inch thick, and there are about 16 slices in the average 9-inch-long loaf.
§     One loaf of bread that weighs 1 ½ pounds uses 1 pound of flour (the rest is water, and possibly other ingredients).
§     One pound of wheat berries/seeds equals one pound of whole-wheat flour. Assuming, for the sake of easier calculation that you are only making whole-grain bread (you need about 25 % more whole wheat berries to make one pound of white flour).
§     At two sandwiches per day (or equivalent use of bread), or 4 slices per day, one adult will eat about 2 loaves of bread a week. That’s two pounds of wheat, times 52 weeks, equals 104 pounds of wheat per person, per year.
§     Nine square feet of land (three feet by three feet) is needed to grow one pound of wheat.
§     Nine (square feet) times 104 (pounds of wheat berries per year) equals 936 square feet needed to grow wheat for one person, for one year.
§     Round it up to 1,000 square feet to allow seed to store to grow next year’s wheat.
§     You need a piece of land that is 10 feet by 100 feet, or 20 feet by 50 feet, or ten small plots that are 10 feet by 10 feet, to grow enough wheat to make bread for one person for one year. For four people, you’ll need 4,000 square feet, or about one-tenth of an acre.
§     You also need plenty of sun, a long enough growing season (120 days minimum, but up to 150 days), the right amount of water, land that has enough nutrients to feed the wheat, and a way to avoid pests and diseases. People have been cultivating wheat for close to 11,000 years, so it’s doable.

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