Wheat growers west of the Cascade Mountains could bring in more profit by supplying wheat to local bakers, according to results of a recent survey conducted by Washington State University.
Sixty percent of western Washington commercial bakers say they are interested in purchasing locally-sourced wheat and flour for their products, notes WSU grad student Karen Hills, who conducted the survey.
That might perk up local producers since these bakers use 5 million pounds of non-local flour every year.
"For the world of grain on the west side, that's a significant number," says Hills. "As the local grain movement goes forward, this will useful information for growers to know about what bakers are looking for.
"I want this information to further the local grain movement on this side of the state," says Hills, who is based at WSU Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center near Seattle.
In Washington, agricultural communities usually rely on large commodity supply chains for marketing their crops, especially small grains, Hills says. In addition, wheat is primarily grown as a rotation crop in northwestern Washington counties, with little economic return for growers.
Yet, the region's consumers are passionate about eating locally-grown food, she adds. West side commercial bakers not only supply a means of getting local grain to consumers, but they also serve as one measure of consumer interest, Hills believes. Ironically, most of these bakers must order organic wheat and flour from outside of the region.
"The local food movement here made sense to study," she says, "but so much of the research on local foods was geared toward produce and livestock. Local grain production and bakers' perspectives about it hadn't been explored."
Hills says she wanted to learn what bakers were most concerned about when considering future purchases of regionally produced flour, what the barriers would be for using it, and what they considered 'local.'