Red Fife wheat

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Red Fife is a cultivar of bread wheat that originated in Peterborough, Ontario in 1842. It is believed to have crossed several continents and the Atlantic before arriving in Canada, where it gained a foothold on the land of David Fife, from which it is named. Red Fife is the first wheat to be named in Canada and has great agricultural influence there today. In addition, many modern varieties of wheat are genetically attributable to this grain.

Origin and history[edit]

Red Fife Wheat is thought to have originated in Turkey, after which it moved across the Black Sea to Ukraine where Mennonite farmers grew it. Red Fife seeds were later shipped to Glasgow, where a friend of David Fife sent a sample to Canada. Fife then grew the variety in Ontario and shared it with other farmers, calling the wheat Red Fife after their distinctively red color. At this point, Canadian lands opened for wheat production. The Red Fife seed adapted to a great diversity of growing conditions across Canada and became the baking and milling industry standard for forty years, from the 1860s to the turn of the twentieth century.

By the 1860s Red Fife was distributed and grown across Canada. Renowned as a fine milling and baking wheat, it set the standard for Canadian wheat cultivation. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and provincial agriculture research stations would import varieties from around the world and grow them in Canadian conditions. There is no native variety of wheat in Canada. Red Fife was considered the "Queen of every harvest for 40 years or more," but Red Fife is a [landrace] and did not meet the variety registration requirements for uniformity and stability.[clarification needed]

Marquis wheat was developed from crossing Red Fife with Hard Red Calcutta. Marquis took over Red Fife's place in the early 1900s and then Thatcher in the 1930s.[1]

Modern history and Red Fife revival[edit]

For most of the twentieth century, Red Fife was grown in very small quantities in plant breeders’ seed collections. Interest in growing heritage wheat grew slowly in Canada. In 1999, Onoway, Alberta farmer Kerry Smith began growing Red Fife and other historic varieties. In 2000, 2001 and 2002 the Alberta Organic Association’s Walter Walchuk and Sharon co-hosted organic heritage wheat field trials throughout Alberta.[citation needed]

In 1998 Jennifer Scott and David Patriquin from Nova Scotia began what is now known as the Maritime Heritage Wheat Project.[clarification needed]

In 2003 in India, inspired by the Red Fife movement, Kranti Prakash took heritage wheats to the Punjab region, where the Green Revolution started in India. He continues his work with Dalit farmers in Bihar.[citation needed]

In 2004 at the Slow Food Terra Madre and the Salone del Gusto celebration in Italy, Red Fife was featured as Canada's only product on show.[citation needed]

Plant breeders around the world continue to use the genetics of Red Fife to make new varieties of wheat.


Red Fife wheat has only three small awns at the top of the head.[2] The straws can grow up to a height of 3–5 feet, depending on the nutrients available in the soil. Red Fife wheat is red or white in color.

While Red Fife wheat is not ideally suited to all growing conditions, it will grow as a spring or winter wheat. On Canada's west coast, Red Fife wheat may actually be more white in colour because of the genetic interaction with the mild environmental conditions. Red Fife grows as a spring wheat on the Prairies and can be grown both as a spring wheat and a winter wheat on the temperate west or east coasts and in Ontario.

Red Fife is an unregistered wheat. Unregistered wheat are regulated under the legislation of Canada.[3] Only registered varieties are to be sold.

Diversity within the variety[edit]

Each seed shows a distinct protein banding pattern. This preliminary research work shows that the 'terroir' of genetics and the environment immediately affect the quality of the seed. It shows that the wheat is identical in appearance in each field but that the genetics were changing. Does this mean Red Fife is a [landrace]. It is a heritage variety and a "folk seed". Little published research work has been done in this area. Farmers have been doing this type of work for centuries.[clarification needed]

Called "folk seeds" or farmers' varieties, landraces have been feeding people since plant domestication started about 10,000 years ago. Landraces provide excellent insurance for subsistence farming populations; there is always something in the field at the end of the season.

Red Fife is the first variety and farmer identified wheat[clarification needed] sold in Canada.[citation needed]

Red Fife, Marquis and new varieties[edit]

Farmers stopped using Red Fife and Marquis as new and improved varieties came onto the market. Landraces have horizontal resistance, as opposed to hybrids that have vertical resistance. By the 1960s, the Green Revolution introduced varieties of crops that were dependent on high inputs of fertilizer to produce high yields.

Plant breeders have used the genetics of old varieties like Red Fife to develop new varieties. Many of the bread wheats developed in Canada owe part of their genetic lineage to Red Fife Wheat.[citation needed] A wheat's name could easily change when the seed was sent to another farmer.

Red Fife in the media[edit]

Folk musician Phil Vernon wrote a song entitled 'Red Fife Wheat'[4] for Canada's first "Bread and Wheat" festival, held in Victoria, British Columbia in 2008.[citation needed]

Products containing Red Fife Wheat[edit]

In June 2010, Canadian Real Canadian Superstores began selling an 1882 Red Fife loaf, recognising their family heritage as bakers and the 1880s when Weston may have been using Red Fife in his breads. This is the first use of variety-preserved wheat in a food product in Canada. Organic farmers Holly and Ray Peterson in Tompkins Saskatchewan grow the Red Fife used in the Weston loaf.

Gananoque, Ontario produced the first Red Fife beer in 2012.[5]


  1. ^ Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, From a single seed—Tracing the Marquis wheat success story in Canada to its roots in the Ukraine. Modified June 8, 2007. Retrieved November 4, 2013.
  2. ^ Grassroot Solutions, Heritage wheat varieties. Retrieved November 4, 2013.
  3. ^ Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Variety Registration—Plants. Modified March 8, 2013. Retrieved November 4, 2013.
  4. ^ Phil Vernon, Kitale Road. Retrieved November 4, 2013.
  5. ^ Canadian Beer News, Gananoque Brewing Continues “Terroir” Series With Red Fife Wheat Ale. Published May 29, 2013. Retrieved November 4, 2013.
  • HARLAN Jack R., Crops and man, American Society of Agronomy, Madison 1975
  • REMPEL, Sharon. Demeter's Wheats. Growing Local Food and Community with traditional wisdom and heritage wheat. 2008. Grassroot Solutions, Victoria. B.C.
  • SCOTT, Jennifer. New Respect for Old Wheat. Reclaiming heritage varieties requires culinary as well as agricultural expertise. Rural Delivery, October, 2004.
  • SYMKO, Stephan. Research Branch. Agriculture Canada. 1999. From a single seed, tracing the history of Marquis wheat success story in Canada to its roots in the Ukraine.
  • WITCOMBE J. R.; JOSHI A; JOSHI K. D.; STHAPIT B. R. Farmer participatory crop improvement. I. Varietal selection and breeding methods and their impact on biodiversity. Experimental Agriculture (Exp. Agric.) 1996, vol. 32, no4, pp. 445–460 (19 ref.)