SIDNEY, Mont. – Barley tops the uses of many crops – it can be used for food consumption, for hay and forage feed, or ground for malt.
That leaves the Montana State University barley breeding program with a huge responsibility to producers – trying to improve all the different end uses for barley.
“We have been working diligently on breeding varieties for all these end uses,” said Jamie Sherman, Montana State University barley breeder.
Quality stability is key throughout all the MSU lines.
“We have been working on malt stability, varieties that can do well in as many conditions as possible so the grower has the best chance of making malt quality,” Sherman said.
If a grower has to sell his malt barley for feed due to environmental or other problems, that feed only pays about half what malt barley would pay.
One of the issues for malt barley producers could be making missteps on the amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied to the crop.
“Sometimes a grower will want to optimize yield and apply too much nitrogen, which hurts malt quality,” she said.
Not having enough rain during the growing season can cause issues for dryland malting barley producers, especially with causing too high of protein or too little plump grain.
On the flip side, too much rain can cause issues for irrigated producers.
Irrigation studies with scientists
In collaboration with Kent McVay, at MSU’s Southern Ag Research Center, and Pat Carr at MSU’s Central Ag Research Center, nitrogen fertilizer tests were conducted.
“We tested four malting barley lines at four different N levels on irrigation and dryland,” Sherman said.
They found that the low protein lines had good malt quality even on dryland and at the higher N levels.
Crossing low-protein with stay-green lines
In addition, Sherman also crossed some low-protein lines with North Dakota stay-green barley lines that might provide bigger root systems.
“The bigger roots would give the plants more access to water, making the low protein gene more effective by extending grain fill even more.
The low protein gene works better with water so more roots could make it even more effective. That means there won’t be a need for excess irrigation because with the bigger root system, the plant can dig down and find water.
“My first set of crosses is here behind me at Sidney,” Sherman said. “Under irrigation, we have gotten protein of 9-10 percent instead of 12 or 13.”
Disease resistance work
In addition to this work, Sherman said studying diseases is helpful for breeders.
“It is critical we get breeding program data from around the state. We have disease pressure here at Sidney, and we haven't gotten disease pressure at any other centers in the state,” she said.
There is more disease pressure on irrigated land.
“It is important to have barley lines growing on irrigated land so we can see how it responds to different diseases, such as net blotch,” she said.
Sherman said they could then breed lines with resistance to diseases.
Nutrition for livestock
“We have done a lot of feed and forage quality analysis to get a better hold on nutrition for livestock,” she said.
The barley breeding program is getting close to releasing some lines with high nutritional value.
MSU's Eastern Ag Research Center has been conducting a barley forage trial this year. The results from the trial will indicate which lines have the most nutritional quality and best biomass for livestock.
The EARC had to cut the forage barley while it was still green, before it was mature.
Winter barley evaluations
In addition, Sherman is evaluating lines for a Montana-adapted winter barley.
“Winter barley may now be successful with decreasing winter temperatures in some locations and with access to a Russian collection. We are evaluating a set of winter barley lines taken from the Russian collection for winter hardiness, forage and malt traits,” she said.
Winter barley is expected to out-yield spring barley by 10-20 percent.
A winter barley line would be good for soil health as it keeps a living root on the soil in the winter; reducing the need for herbicide; and outcompetes most weeds.