Barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) is one of our most ancient crops and was domesticated from wild barley (Hordeum vulgare ssp. spontaneum) approximately 10,000 years ago in the fertile crescent (Badr et al., 2000). Barley was instrumental in the development of agriculture and currently is the fifth most important grain crop worldwide ( http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#home ). Worldwide, the primary use of barley is animal feed; however, barley receives its highest market value from the malting and brewing industries. Recent work has shown that barley as a human food can reduce the risk of obesity, type II diabetes and heart disease, creating an emerging market for food grade barleys.
We are developing winter barley as an annual cover crop that can produce high quality grain for the malting and brewing industries. The University of Minnesota has conducted breeding research in spring barley for over 100 years and produced very important varieties over that period. Beginning in 2009, the University of Minnesota initiated a winter barley breeding program with the goal of developing an effective cover crop with high economic value. Winter barley is less winter hardy than winter wheat or rye and has not been produced in northern states like Minnesota. Thus a primary focus of our breeding and genetics research is to increase the winter hardiness of winter barley.
Fall planting of barley as a winter annual has many features that would make it attractive to producers and end-users. Fall planting and earlier harvest gives growers additional options to optimize their operations. Winter barley will typically have higher yields than spring barley in many regions. Winter cover crops provide important ecosystem services (limit soil erosion, sequester carbon as organic matter, provide wildlife habitat, and reduce nutrient leakage to surface and subsurface water reservoirs). Earlier harvest may help avoid important diseases such as stem rust and Fusarium head blight. It may also be possible to double crop winter barley with soybeans enabling barley to potentially share some of the large soybean acreage in the Midwest.
Establishment of fall-planted and spring planted barley. Photos taken on the same day in late April.
In the U.S. more than 80% of the barley acreage is spring barley grown in Montana, Idaho, North Dakota, Washington, and Minnesota (UDSA/NASS/Agriculture Statistics Board, June 30, 2015 Acreage Report). Fall planting of barley as a winter annual has many features that would make it attractive to producers and end-users. Fall planting and earlier harvest gives growers additional options to optimize their operations. Winter barley will typically have higher yields than spring barley in many regions. Winter cover crops provide important ecosystem services (limit soil erosion, sequester carbon as organic matter, provide wildlife habitat, and reduce nutrient leakage to surface and subsurface water reservoirs). Earlier harvest may help avoid important diseases such as stem rust and Fusarium head blight. It may also be possible to double crop winter barley with soybeans enabling barley to potentially share some of the large soybean acreage in the Midwest.
The University of Minnesota has had active research in barley breeding for over 100 years. The main emphasis has been on six-rowed spring malting barley and the program has released numerous important varieties that have occupied large acreages in the Midwest. Recently, the U.M. breeding program initiated breeding for winter barley. The most important breeding objective for winter barley in the Midwest is to increase winter survival. Currently, the most winter hardy barley varieties are much less hardy than winter wheat. To identify sources of winter hardiness, the U.M. program has collaborated in the screening of over 2,000 accessions from around the work for survival in Minnesota winters and identified around 20 that are being used in breeding. In addition to winterhardiness, yield and malting quality are important breeding objectives. To accelerate breeding progress the UM breeding program will take advantage of genomics resources (see below) and new breeding methods like genomic selection (Lorenz et al., 2012; Sallam et al., 2014). The UM breeding program will develop “facultative” barley, which is capable of surviving winters, but does not require vernalization – a six week cold period necessary to transition to flowering. Facultative barley provides flexibility for breeding and producers as it can be planted in the spring or fall.
Screening barley plots for winter survival on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus.
There is a rich set of genetic resources for barley breeding and genetics including: a draft genome sequence, dense genetic maps, extensive mutant collections, a TILLING resource, and germplasm collections housed at the United States Department of Agriculture National Small Grains Collection (USDA-NSGC, USA), Research Institute for Bioresources (RIB, Japan), and the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK, Germany).
Several genomics databases provide essential tools for breeding and genetics including: The Triticeae Toolbox or T3, HarvEST:Barley database (http://harvest.ucr.edu/Barley1.htm) and The Barley Genome Explorer (Barlex; barlex.barleysequence.org). T3 contains barley genetic maps, and genotype and phenotype data from germplasm collections, association mapping panels and breeding lines. T3 also has tools to visualize phenotypic data, conduct clustering analyses, perform association mapping, and genomic prediction. The HavEST:Barley and Barlex databases provide information on the barley genome sequence and facilitate mapping and cloning projects. The UM barley breeding program will utilize this vast set of genomics tools to produce new winter barley varieties with the package of traits that will enable them to be valuable components of new cropping systems that are productive, profitable, environmentally friendly, and sustainable.
Best management practices for producing spring barley in Minnesota are well established and production guidelines are easily available through the University of Minnesota Extension (http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/small-grains/). Many of these practices will be applicable to winter barley, however, additional research will be needed that is specific to winter barley. The timing of planting and seeding rate can be manipulated to optimize the number of plants that survive the winter. Winter survival is also influenced by snow cover, so tillage practices that leave crop residue to trap snow will enhance yields of fall-sown barley. Managing the level of soil nitrogen is important for both grain yield and protein content and the dynamics of nitrogen utilization will likely be different for fall-sown barley. The different planting to harvest window for winter barley will effect which diseases pose the greatest threat. We expect diseases that tend to move in later such as rusts and head diseases may be less important for winter barley. However, other disease like powdery mildew and barley yellow dwarf may increase in importance. Comprehensive research addressing a wide range of management tools will be essential for the successful introduction of winter barley into Minnesota agriculture.
Barley is a significant U.S. crop with average annual production of 212 million bushels valued at $894 million as a raw agricultural commodity (2004-2013). The impact of barley on the U.S. economy is even more significant if the value-added products resulting from its utilization as an animal feed, in malt beverages, and in food products are considered. The economy also benefits from exports which annually average $59 million for barley and its milled products, $217 million for malt and malt extracts, $440 million for beer, and $981 million for whiskey (2010-2014). This market demand has been almost exclusively for spring barley; however, new winter barley varieties that perform well in the field and in the malt house and brewery will easily find their way in the marketplace. The recent explosion in small craft brewers, over 90 in Minnesota alone, will create increased demand for locally produced malting barley. The UM barley breeding program has aligned its breeding strategy to take advantage of this mature end-use market and recent demand for local production and deploy a value-added winter annual as part of Minnesota’s new agriculture that maintains plants on the landscape year round to improve water quality.
Ruth Dill-Macky, Professor, Department of Plant Pathology
Gabe Gusmini, Research Director, PepsiCo, University of Minnesota
Gary Muehlbauer, Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics
Craig Sheaffer, Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics
Kevin Smith, Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics
Madeline Smith, Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Pathology
Brian Steffenson, Professor, Department of Plant Pathology
M. Scott Wells, Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics
Jochum Wiersma, Associate Professor, Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics
American Malting Barley Association
Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
USDA Cereal Crops Research Unit, Madison WI
University of Nebraska Barley Breeding Program, Lincoln, NE
Oregon State University Barley Breeding Program, Corvallis, OR
USDA-ARS Barley Breeding Program at Aberdeen ID