Barley in field Sodapix/istock/thinkstock
BETTER BARLEY COMING: Malting barley disease research promises to boost conventional barley yields and quality.

Malting barley demand spurs new disease research

Farmers searching for cultivars that have desired quality and will grow in the region.

Barley may be a small-grain stepsister to wheat. But with the explosion of craft beers in the East, U.S. interest in growing malting barley has also exploded.

Yet nearly all malting barley imports are from Canada due in part to disease pressures. That may be about to change, hints Scott Heisel, vice president of the American Malting Barley Association.

Growth in the number of brewers and distillers in the East, plus the “locally sourced” movement, has created a new market for malting barley. Malting companies and farmers are searching for the malting cultivars that have the desired quality and will grow in the region, he adds.

That demand has spurred malting barley breeding programs at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.; USDA/Agricultural Research Service, Raleigh, N.C.; Ohio State University, Wooster, Ohio; and Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. They’re developing new winter and spring barley lines with resistance to powdery mildew. These eastern breeders are also working on preharvest sprouting, and other important diseases like net blotch or fusarium head blight. The AMBA’s research grant program provides research funding for this research.

“The ultimate success would be having malting quality barley in the East that could satisfy both the malting and feed markets,” says Heisel. “It would make growing barley more attractive to growers and expand acreage. 

“There are also lots of advantages of winter barley relative to double cropping. It’s an early crop, and reducing soil erosion can lead to cleaner waterways.”

Source: American Malting Barley Association

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