February 15, 2019

George Washington: president, patriot and… wheat grower?

The history of George Washington and wheat growing.

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What do you and America’s first president have in common? Wheat farming.

It’s well-known that George Washington, like many other Virginian landowners, grew tobacco. But while others hesitated to pivot from a crop that built the South, Washington saw a future in wheat growing. And for 30 years, he tested wheat varieties on his farm to find the perfect fit.

That’s right. While Washington did indeed support his Virginian estate with tobacco crops for many years, the high-class market prices were a drain both on his fields and his resources. Selling tobacco was a tough business with the process of delivery taking anywhere from 27-138 days (and that was without pay!). Plus, unfair business practices from English merchants often drove Virginian farmers into debt while they waited.

Enter the golden grain.

Wheat was a much more flexible farming product for Washington. He could sell it as grain locally or as flour to use as an export. Byproducts and rough leftovers could be sold to the middle and lower classes and to fill up animal troughs.

And just like the wheat farmers of today, Washington was constantly on the lookout for the latest agronomic innovations. He built new facilities and reorganized his plantations, bringing in agronomy experts and testing new varieties on his fields. Washington never grew WestBred® wheat, but he did grow summer, red-straw, lamas and Russian wheat as well as soft red winter wheat that’s still popular in Virginia today.

But Washington wasn’t just interested in wheat farming for the profits alone — he wanted to make farming better for all Americans and encouraged other wealthy landowners to experiment and innovate just as he had. His efforts helped popularize successful conservation farming techniques, increasing both yield and profit potential.

In fact, Washington’s accomplishments were so respected that he was elected to be an honorary member of the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture — the first American organization dedicated to agricultural improvement and education.

You can add accomplished wheat farmer to George Washington’s list of honors.

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