A dearth of durum

When I was a kid, we grew durum and hard red spring wheat on our family farm in central North Dakota. I was 9 or 10 when I learned that durum is actually harder than hard wheat.  That didn’t make sense to me (if durum is harder. shouldn’t the names be reversed?) so I asked my father to explain. He said something along the lines of, “Because that’s the way it is” and gave me a don’t-ask-any-more-questions-like-that look.

Many years have passed and I’m still asking questions about durum. North Dakota is the nation’s leading producer of durum, which is used to make pasta. But acreage of the crop is on a long, downward trend because of sluggish prices and more attractive options. Even farmers who like the crop and hope to keep growing it are less than optimistic.

Read my cover story in the March 12 issue of Agweek.

So why do durum and hard wheat bear their respective names? Well, durum is derived from the Latin word for “hard” and hard wheat is harder than soft wheat. I suppose there’s a certain logic to the names after all.

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