What is Spelt?
Author: Hugh Martin - Organic Crop Production Program Lead/OMAFRA
Creation Date: 05 September 2003
Last Reviewed: 05 September 2003
Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Spelt is a species of wheat that has been grown since 5000 BC. Spelt, emmer and eincorn are considered to be "ancient" wheat species, since there has been very little breeding of these crops. All three are covered wheat species, which means the hull remains attached to the kernel after harvest, similar to barley. Spelt was also called dinkle by some early farmers. In the early 1900's there was up to 500,000 acres grown in the USA.
In Ontario there has never been a large acreage of spelt. In 2002 there was around 6,000 acres of spelt, mostly on organic farms. Spelt has become a major cash crop for organic farmers to compliment other crops, such as soybeans and other grain crops.
There are both spring and fall seeded varieties of spelt, but most spelt is fall-seeded. Varieties include the older Oberkulmer type and a newer variety called Heritage. A high percentage of the crop is common seed. Most varieties are awnless. Common spelt is susceptible to leaf rust, fusarium, powdery mildew, and loose smut similar to wheat. But in most years diseases have not been a serious problem on Ontario organic farms. Spelt is tall, with moderately weak straw, and is later maturing than most wheat varieties.
Seeding & Fertility
Spelt needs to be planted about the same time as winter wheat. Spelt and wheat should not follow each other as rotation crops. Spelt can be grown in most areas where winter wheat safely survives the winter. Spelt requires about 25-50% less nitrogen than wheat. Phosphorous and potassium requirements are similar to wheat or barley.
The Organic Field Crops Handbook recommends a seeding rate of 160-180 lb/acre, but in practice seeding rates vary from 125 to 200 lb/acre. The Ohio Agronomy Guide suggests a spelt seeding rate of 15 to 20 seeds per foot of 7-inch row. Winter wheat research would indicate that we need 20 plants per foot of row (7") for 100% yield potential. The seeding rate is determined by the percent viable germination of the seed, seed size, and by the personal experience of the grower in previous years. Spelt is a large seed (due to the hull) with relatively high seeding rates. Drills must have adjustable openings of sufficient size to accommodate the large pointed seed, and allow for the planting of adequate seeding rates. Smooth drop tubes are desired to prevent seed from lodging and plugging the tube. Some growers double drill or broadcast seed to facilitate planting.
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Protein is variable but most buyers require 12% protein and the "falling number" should be at least 300. No official test weight has been established for spelt, but recent tests show that with the hull attached it averages 27-30 lb/bushel. The test weight of hulled seed is close to that of wheat (60 lb/bu). The 2003 crop has been of excellent quality.
Yields & Price
A successful crop of spelt can yield 1.0 to 1.2 tonnes per acre. Good quality spelt is currently selling for over $350 per tonne at the farmgate. Most of the Ontario crop has traditionally been exported to Europe, but the North American consumption of this grain is increasing. Most flour millers buy the grain dehulled, which requires grain elevators to dehull the grain with specialized dehulling equipment.
Spelt flour can substitute for wheat flour in many products (breads, pasta, cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pancakes and waffles). The starch in spelt is more soluble than wheat and recipes containing spelt flour will frequently require less water than when using wheat flour. People with 'allergies' to wheat starch commonly report that spelt is easier to digest. Spelt does however contain gluten, and people with gluten allergies (celiac disease) are likely to be allergic to spelt, similar to wheat and other gluten grains.
Most of the Ontario crop is sold for human consumption but it can also be used in livestock rations similar to oats for its protein and fibre qualities.
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