Barley Production in Alberta: Selecting Varieties

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 A grower should choose a variety and try to obtain seed during the fall and winter. Early arrangements are particularly important when changing to a new variety, as seed supplies of newly licensed varieties are usually limited. New varieties are appearing more frequently than ever before, and farmers should be on the lookout for new types that would be particularly suitable for their farm.

The variety chosen will depend on area and intended use of the crop. The varieties available in Alberta and their relative performance in the main production areas are described in Varieties of Cereal and Oilseed Crops for Alberta, Agdex 100/32, which is available from Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. The production areas illustrated are very large and cover a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. While relative yields given reflect the average for a whole production area, they frequently do not apply to particular locations in the area. A producer should consult an extension specialist for information on a particular variety but the ultimate test is how it performs under an individual farm's resources and management. Testing programs do not cover all crop districts in the province, but data from one or two locations may be more pertinent to an individual grower than the average results.

Whether the crop will be used for silage, high moisture grain, or dry feed grain should not affect choice of variety; yield of grain is very closely correlated with total dry matter yield among our better varieties. Also among these better varieties, the weight of dry grain versus the weight of dry straw is approximately equal. From this information we can estimate the yield of straw or total plant harvest (dry basis) once the grain yield has been calculated. For example, if the field of barley was judged to yield about 3,233 kg/ha (60 bu/ac) of grain then the approximate plant material weight would be another 3,233 kg/ha (1.44 tons/acre) dry basis. For a silage yield estimate, if the silage was to be harvested at 60 per cent moisture, then:

The yield of silage at 60% moisture would be: 100 - 60 = 40% dry matter. 3,233 kg/ha grain plus 3,233 kg/ha straw = 6,466 kg/ha, 6466/0.4 = 16.165 tonnes/ha (7.2 tons/acre).

Yields will be higher when a crop is harvested as high moisture grain rather than as dry grain, probably as a result of lower harvesting losses. This is more pronounced in the six-rowed varieties, in which the lateral kernels are smaller and more easily lost in dry threshing.

Important production factors such as maturity, lodging and disease resistance should always be considered when selecting a variety. Among the licensed varieties grown in Alberta there are no important differences in quality for use as feed, except the hulless barley varieties, which have distinct feed advantages for hogs and chickens.

Contrary to expectations, our feed varieties are not inherently high in protein. In fact they tend to be slightly lower in protein content than malting varieties because of higher yields which are associated with higher proportions of carbohydrates in the kernels. The protein content of all varieties, both feed and malting, will vary widely, depending on growing conditions. Stresses such as drought, lodging, and disease will increase protein content, as will excessive nitrogen fertilizer. Optimum growing conditions will produce a maximum yield of plump kernels with a high proportion of carbohydrates and a protein content of 10 to 12 per cent -- a desirable range for feeding ruminant animals, as well as for malting. But remember, barley is primarily used in rations as a source of energy.

The long-term average protein content in Alberta barley is 12.4% dry basis. Protein content in any one year ranges from 8% to over 18%. Protein levels of barley are generally higher in southern crop districts than in central and northern Alberta.

Some producers prefer the straw of some varieties over that of others. These preferences seem to depend on palatability rather than nutritional quality. Two extensive surveys were conducted with farmers to determine what varieties had the best straw for feed. The results from both surveys were the same: that no particular variety was better than any of the others. The preference varied with the farmer answering the question.

The following table shows the analysis of barley straw by variety for a 14-year period. Considering the many variables that may occur, such as the degree of weathering from year to year, stage of growth at swathing, etc., the figures should not be looked upon as significantly different. They are given as an indication of the barley straw quality that may be expected by the producer.

Analysis of Barley Straw, 1980 to 1994 (Dry Matter Basis)

% Protein
% N
% P
% S
% K
AC Lacombe3.39 0.57 0.0220.01 0.07 51.28 51.87
Source: Agronomy Unit, Diagnostic Field School

If the crop is intended for the malting market, the choice is limited to the selection of an acceptable malting variety. Preference by maltsters is generally for two-row malt. White aleurone six-row varieties are also grown, but only under contract.

In the larger two-row malt market, variety preference changes slowly as variety improvements occur. Currently the varieties AC Metclafe, CDC Copeland, CDC Meredith and Newdale are the most popular malting varieties. There is limited demand for CDC Polestar, Merit 57 and Major. Other, newer varieties are in limited production, undergoing testing. Malting varieties change very slowly.


Other Documents in the Series

  Barley Production in Alberta
Barley Production in Alberta: Selecting Varieties - Current Document
Barley Production in Alberta: Seeding
Barley Production in Alberta: Fertilizing
Barley Production in Alberta: Plant Development
Barley Production in Alberta: Crop Damage
Barley Production in Alberta: Pests
Barley Production in Alberta: Harvesting
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Harry Brook.
This document is maintained by Brenda McLellan.
This information published to the web on August 20, 2002.
Last Reviewed/Revised on May 27, 2015.