Barley Production in Alberta: Selecting Varieties

Subscribe to our free E-Newsletter, "Agri-News" (formerly RTW This Week)Agri-News
This Week
 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 and Forestry. Varieties are compared by environmental yield potentials not by region. Some varieties perform better under adverse conditions and other shine with superior nutrients and weather conditions. A producer should consult an extension specialist for information on a particular variety but the ultimate test depends on how it performs under an individual farm's resources and management.

Whether the crop will be used for forages, dry feed grain or malting, should be an important factor affecting variety choice. In general, yield of grain is very closely correlated with total dry matter yield among our better varieties. Some varieties are bred specifically for forage purposes which does not follow this rule of thumb. Analysis of digestibility characteristics show some varieties are much more efficiently used as feed grain or forage, than other varieties. Recently, variety data has included use of varieties specifically for forage, giving comparative vegetation yields. For forage varieties of barley, awn type can be important for some producers due to perceived beliefs related to lumpy jaw. Some producers prefer smooth awns over rough awned types. There are varieties better suited for dairy and transitioning beef calves as they have better quality, low ADF, low NDF, low lignin, and higher fiber digestibility. For a cow on swath grazing, quality is not as important until the third trimester. Therefore quality versus yield may depend on the intended end-use.

While forage yield can be estimated by comparing grain yield with straw production, this estimate does not reflect all varieties, especially forage types that may have low grain to biomass ratios, or semi-dwarf types that may have high grain to biomass ratios. The weight of dry grain versus the weight of dry straw is approximately equal for medium and tall non-forage varieties.. 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).

Forage for swath grazing or silage, should be taken when the plants are at a moisture content of approximately 60% (soft dough stage). By this stage the grain has a good starch content that leads to overall nutritional benefits. Leaving the harvest until lower moisture may reduce efficiency of silaging and increase the proportion of fiber in the crop.

Important production factors such as maturity, lodging and disease resistance should always be considered when selecting a variety. Although there are differences in feed value between varieties, a lot of current varieties have not been tested for digestibility. Hulless barley varieties may have higher levels of starch and less fibre, having distinct feed advantages for hogs and chickens. However, caution needs to be made in variety selection as some hulless food barley are higher in beta-glucans, a dietary fiber important for humans, but will cause sticky feces in poultry.

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.

If the crop is intended for the malt market, the choice is limited to the selection of an acceptable malting variety. Each year a list of recommended malting barley varieties is released by the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre. Preference by maltsters is generally for two-row malt. White aleurone six-row varieties are only grown in very limited amounts and only under contract.

In the larger two-row malt market, variety preference by the brewing industry changes slowly but as variety improvements occur new varieties are adopted. In 2018 the varieties AC Metclafe, CDC Copeland, AAC Synergy, AAC Connect, and CDC Bow are the recommended 2-row malting varieties. There is limited contract demand for CDC PolarStar, and CDC PlatinumStar. There are also limited marketing opportunities for Bentley, Newdale and CDC Kindersley, in certain areas. Other, newer varieties are being developed and undergoing seed propagation and testing.


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
Share via
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 April 25, 2018.