Northampton County is #1
in Wheat Production in Virginia 

Amber waves of grain 

8, 976 acres of wheat are planted in Northampton County every year 

Amber waves of grain grace Northampton County. 
Photo credit: Helene Doughty

Wheat spikes and the rising sun.

Northampton County has ideal growing conditions for wheat. Temperate climate, loamy soils and plenty of sunshine produce abundant yields. Wheat requires 12 to 15 inches of water to produce a good crop. Northampton County gets lots of rain in the winter and spring- just right for growing wheat. It turns out, weather that is comfortable for people is also great for wheat!

Wheat spikes soak up the rising sun. 
Photo credit: Helene Doughty  

Wheat being harvested 

Most wheat grown in Virginia is the soft red winter variety, which is used in flour for bread, pastries, cakes and crackers. Winter wheat is typically planted in the fall from September - November in Northampton County and harvested in late spring/early summer.  

Wheat harvester 
Photos credit: William Dyas 
Wheat being harvested. Corn can be seen growing in the background. 

Grain Silos

Once the grains are harvested they need to be stored in the best possible conditions to protect the grain from moisture and weevils. Cereals are a community of living organisms made up from the grain itself, bacteria and tiny insects.

Grain Silos in Eastville, VA
Photo credit: Derek Williams

So much goes into the production of one loaf of bread; Preparing the land, sowing the wheat, cultivating, harvesting, storing the kernels, selling and shipping, processing the grain into flour and baking the flour into bread! 

Most of the wheat grown on the Eastern Shore is used in livestock feed but just as much effort goes into producing the grain. So, why wouldn't farmers want to get more profit out of one crop? That's where the straw bales come in. 

Straw stacked at the edge of a field.

After the harvest of the wheat kernels the straw is baled and stacked at the edge of fields. The bales are then transported to a central location.

Straw bales stacked three stories high

Photo credit: Derek Williams
A drone photo of straw bales stacked 3 stories high near OBS in Eastville on Route 13.

According to the Northampton County Cooperative Extension, "The stacks seen here are from multiple farms and are awaiting transport to Pennsylvania and New York. Some will be used for horse and cattle feed. For the most part, this biomass will be shipped to Pennsylvania to the mushroom farms."

Soil fertility specialist, Dr. Mark Reiter explains, "Removing the organic matter from the fields depletes the soil of nutrients but it makes it easier to plant the next crop with less disease and less insect injury in the new crop."

Most fields will be planted using no till method and rotated with a nitrogen fixing crop such as soybeans to recoup the nutrients lost. 


Mushrooms growing in compost

Hay and Straw are the main ingredient for mushroom compost

According to Pennsylvania Sustainable Agriculture Association (PASA), "contrary to what some might think, manure is not the main ingredient in mushroom compost. While manure is a component of the recipe, the main ingredients are hay and straw."

 Below is a list of mushroom compost, the growing medium for mushrooms. 

  • 40-50% Hay
  • 25-35%  Straw
  • 5–15% Straw horse bedding
  • 4% Poultry manure
  • 2% Gypsum
  • 1% Corn cobs, cocoa shells, cotton seed hulls 

Mushrooms primarily consume lignin and carbohydrates as they grow, "leaving the resulting N-P-K values in mushroom compost mostly unchanged from the starting formula."  Since no nutrients are lost during the sprouting of mushrooms, it may be beneficial to return the mushroom compost to the fields of Northampton County once the mushrooms are harvested. Dr. Reiter has been researching this idea for the benefit of the fertility of our soil on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.