Changing the world, one loaf at a time

11 min read

From home baking to shop-bought bread, pasta and cereals, wheat is at the core of our diet, but there’s a problem with wheat production – it’s about crop diversity and it’s a big issue. Clare Finney finds out what we can all do to help, then Emily Gussin shares some fabulous recipes using lesser-known wheat varieties


Don’t be fooled by the multitude of different breads and breakfast cereals on supermarket shelves. Most of them are made from just one or two plant varieties. And that’s the big problem with our wheat – it contains limited genetic diversity. In fact, wheat diversity has been declining globally since World War II, when plant varieties were genetically engineered to grow more quickly and produce higher yields, helping to put much-needed calories in the mouths of the population.

A few modern strains displaced the myriad regional wheat varieties around the world that had become highly adapted to their individual landscape and conditions. “Key to the different varieties of wheat is not so much having them for their own sake, but the genetic diversity they represent,” says Josiah Meldrum, co-founder of Hodmedod’s, a wholesaler and retailer that works with British farmers to support fair and sustainable UK production of grains and pulses.


Regional wheat varieties tended to have deep roots (better to scour for nutrients) and tall stems, which put distance between the seed head and any fungal disease in the soil. Modern varieties had none of the adaptations or resilience of the grains they replaced, and their short stems, shallow roots and genetic homogeneity have rendered them dependent on pesticides, herbicides and carbon-intensive chemical fertiliser.

“You need to use fertiliser to get the high yield, but the fertiliser makes the weeds grow too, so then you need to use herbicides to control the weeds, which depletes the soil, so you need to add biological amendments,” explains Fred Price of Gothelney Farm in Somerset. Globally this has led to land degradation, desertification, disease outbreaks and the decline of pollinators, all compounded by climate change.


Unlike modern cereals, population wheats take “a number of varieties, cross them every which way so they’re genetically diverse and then plant them all in a field”. says baker Anna Higham. “Each year, as you grow and resow the crop, the plants that survive will be best suited to that piece of la

This article is from...

Related Articles

Related Articles