What’s Happening to the Taste and Nutrients of What We Eat?

I haven’t seen many of you down at my local newsagent early on a Thursday morning, picking up your copy of The Land… I’m assuming you must all get it delivered; perusing the cattle prices, watching the wool market and checking out the latest tractor as you enjoy your black tea and WeetBix. You will all then recall the recent article “Less wheat ‘Bang’ – and it’s a worry”…No? Wrong audience? Hmmm…let me explain.

Rothamsted Research Station near London is the oldest agricultural research station in the world. The Broadbalk Ag experiment started in 1843 and has been assessing the value of the then new inorganic fertilizers against farmyard manure and control plots with no additions.

As you can imagine, science kicked in and the yields increased from just over 1 tonne per hectare to 11 to 12 tonnes per hectare in those plots fertilized with modern inorganic fertilizers on a rotation with other crops. What caught my interest about this article was the research on macronutrients within the strains of wheat developed over the period of the trials. The trials indicate that the levels of macronutrients from the early years until the 1960s remained somewhat similar; they then declined with new developments in wheat genetics.

So what happened in the 1960s? Well I am led to believe that “chemical science” helped some people miss the decade all together, but in regard to wheat, the long straw varieties began to give way to the much shorter semi-dwarf varieties that are sown today. To paint the picture, long straw varieties grew for longer and were larger (waist height) compared to the modern varieties which grow faster, are more resistant to disease, and only grow to around knee height using less moisture and other inputs.

As these new strains have developed the macronutrients have decreased to 30% lower than the original long straw varieties. In essence, as we develop new strains to have larger grains which develop quicker for more profit, we are losing the benefit of the grain in the first place.

I believe this process of development for a faster more profitable product to be a slippery slope. I can understand the farmer’s position… What would you do? Plant a crop with low yield so that you can sleep at night knowing that little Jonny is getting his share of nutrients? The farmer would soon be sleeping in his car as the bank would have his property, and what does little Jonny do? Take a tablet to make up for his lost nutrients? Where does it stop!

As we evolve, and progress takes us to God knows where, the aim of feeding the masses is leaving the good things behind. It is not just wheat; in the shops the tomatoes, corn, carrots and grain fed meat (you knew it was coming) have little taste. This is because they have been bred or grown quicker and bigger for more bucks, ease of packaging and disease resistance; but in doing so the good parts are left behind. Those of you who have a vegie garden know how much better your home grown vegies taste. Choose what food you buy. Yes, some places are more convenient and some products are cheaper, but at what cost? Loss of taste and nutrients…? But really, why else do we eat?

food production, wheat

Ben Clinch

Ben Clinch has a strong background in agriculture and has experience in operations and project management. Before starting The Free Range Butcher he worked as jackaroo, camel handler, barman, security guard, handyman, and tiler. These days he manages the day to day running of The Free Range Butcher business, and you can usually find him out the front of the farmers market stall; often telling bad jokes, or offering samples to vegetarians. He’s also the go to guy for sales, corporate enquiries, events, and silly questions.

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