Senatore Cappelli is a special durum wheat cultivar introduced in the early 1900s in Italy, whose compelling history is a tale of Italian resourcefulness and devotion to science.
Nazareno Strampelli, an Italian agronomist and plant breeder from the Marche region, is the man we have to thank for the advent of Senatore Cappelli durum wheat. He moved to Apulia in 1906 following an invitation from Marquis Raffaele Cappelli, who wanted him to carry out some in-depth research on wheat.
The aim of Strampelli’s experiments was to identify a more resistant wheat variety that could easily adapt to different climates and ultimately increase production in a historical period where a large percentage of Italy’s population was experiencing famine. The outcome of Strampelli’s studies was a huge success, resulting in the development of the Senatore Cappelli durum wheat variety, which was improved in 1915 and whose name is clearly a tribute to the man who commissioned the research.
Strampelli in his career created more than 50 different kinds of wheat, nevertheless the game-changing Senatore Cappelli has remained the flagship of his work, as it ended up being the most widespread wheat variety in Italy up until the end of the 1960s.
Italy back then was in the hands of the Fascist party, who used Strampelli’s genius to partially fulfil its autarchic philosophy of making Italy independent from foreign imports. The widespread diffusion of Senatore Cappelli durum wheat was celebrated as the cornerstone of Fascist doctrine by Mussolini, who awarded Strampelli with the ‘Senator’ title.
The agronomist, however, who had never been too keen on politics and honours, decided to steer away from public affairs and instead kept focusing painstakingly on his research work. He never patented any of his inventions, turning his back on huge potential profits: in modern terms, he could be seen as a pioneer of the open source model in a field where today hybrid seeds are kept in armoured bunkers and patents are worth millions of dollars. Nazareno Strampelli managed to accomplish extraordinary results despite having to rely on limited resources, using almost exclusively his genius and profound devotion to science to reach his goals.
The Senatore Cappelli Durum Wheat or “Capelli” is an autumnal cultivar of durum wheat.For decades it has been the most popular wheat variety, especially in Southern Italy (Basilicata and Puglia), also called “Chosen Race”, nowadays it has been rediscovered as a variety never contaminated by mutagenesis, and it’s grown in a few privileged areas of Italy, by virtue of the excellent organoleptic and nutritional characteristics.
Because of its height (160/180 cm – 5/6 feet) and its developed root system, it suffocates weeds and is therefore very suitable for organic farming, the only method by which it’s produced.