Malting Organic Oats, Heritage Wheats, and Heritage Barley

Final report for FNC19-1202

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2019: $26,978.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Doubting Thomas Farms
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Noreen Thomas
Doubting Thomas Farms
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Project Information

Description of operation:

We have been organic since about 1997. We used cover crops multi-species this year and farm about 1200 acres.


The craft brewing industry has an immense impact on state and local economies - generating $2 billion in Minnesota and $200 million in North Dakota in 2016 alone (Brewer's Association). Craft beer enthusiasts are constantly seeking novel ingredients to expand the variety of offerings, and create a unique experience around their brew. According to the University of Minnesota (UMN) economic development team, there are over 500 active breweries in Minnesota alone. 

This quest for a unique flavor can be met with locally-sourced ingredients; thus, providing expanded market options for farmers to grow grain for the production. This project would initiate research of the potential of organic heritage barley, oats, and wheat grown in the Red River Valley for malt, a key ingredient in beer. We would work in collaboration with Vertical Malt for expertise on the science of malting grain.  A quote used with permission "As farmers, maltsters and brewers further develop local beer foodsheds, more ingredients are being added. With a growing interest in reviving the local beer supply chain, from grain to finished product, the time is ripe for alternative grain crops to enter the malting market. " Tamara Scully writer for Beverage Master Craft Spirits and Brew Magazine.

The varieties of barley we tested were Tinka barley (a German variety), Organic Conlon barley, Paul hulless oats, Boiles wheat, Red Fife, and a winter wheat variety (old and not sure of variety). The Tinka variety did not do well and was difficult to grow. It lodged early in production and was harder to thresh. We are not sure if that was because of weather, or if it was the variety, or a combination of the two factors. Germination of the grain is very important as it has to be 95% or more germination for malting since you are sprouting the grain during malting. If it rains during harvest, the grain can sprout in the field causing it to be poor for malting. The grain cannot be "bin run" and has to be cleaned ahead of time (which is another process). Protein for barley should not be more then 12%. The wheat had higher protein (14% for Boiles and winter wheat at 12%) and oats (15 % protein) but seemed to work well in malting. (We are not sure why this worked well.) Winter wheat in the lab samples worked well for malting because of low protein compared to hard red spring wheat. We found this year it was hard to achieve 65% plumpness (85% does really well) and consistent uniform seed size because of the weather and excess rain. The best requirement is to have a lab test all grains for malting quality, especially barley. Batch sizes at 4000 pounds are very expensive to make the malt and sometimes without market to sell and it is good to know if it is worth it for malting. Lab testing for malting quality costs about $35.00 per sample. Field to field differs drastically in malt quality. The oats and wheat for malting have very little established standards and we were using barley standards that do not match oats and wheat. Much more work needs to be done. I have asked several PhD’s in the industry and there simply are no standards for malting oats or the wheat. There are also some cautions as the oats can go into a sticky mush and fall through the screens in malting. The water uptake is also different then barley because the hulless oats do not have a hull so water is absorbed differently. We are working through this by doing small lab samples. But we found from lab tests that sometimes there is not a correlation to full blown malting or it may even be different in how it reacts in a batch and the range in quality is wide.

The work with breweries is emerging. They are the most intense of relationships. I have worked in local foods for 18 years and found this work to be much more relationship bound and more questions about quality of product. We are also applying for more funding as we have involved more farmers and want collectively to work closer with breweries for market We were also asked to be part of the Artisan Grain Collaborative which is invitation only so we are now hoping to work better and closer with breweries. Also we found an individual that will help us work on future work dealing with fruit, and other adjuncts. He is retiring from being a brewmaster. The fruits and adjuncts are a good pairing as it is hard for many farmers to find market share once the fruits are ripe and are in larger quantities more then a farmers market can support.   


Project Objectives:

Identify varieties of organic heritage oats, organic heritage wheat and organic heritage barley that will malt with good flavor, and one the breweries like. The Conlon barley, Paul hulless oats and Red Fife wheat seem to work well. Some breweries are very interested but are slow to switch over to something without a proven track record or have planned the schedule in advance, so further work alongside the breweries is needed. 

Identify the quality aspects of the grains that worked well (document protein, moisture, grain size). The quality of the grains in 2019 was not so good. Moisture for grains should not be above 12 per cent, and the protein for malting (barley) must be between 11 and 13.5 percent. The grain size can vary but it is best to have plumper grains. Vomitoxin, also known as deoxynivalenol (DON), is a type B trichothecene, an epoxy-sesquiterpenoid has to be less then 1 ppm. The grains also had a very tough year: Tinka, a German variety, failed and DON was in the 1.9 ppm range. The varieties that worked well were organic Conlon barley, Paul hulless oats, and Red Fife wheat. Tinka barley was difficult to grow and lodged as well, and the weather was raining nonstop at harvest time and the DON popped up to near 3.0 ppm (less then 1 ppm acceptable).


Share results with other farmers and host field day.

Re-purpose heritage varieties and keep from extinction.

Expand market opportunities and diversify crop rotations of farm.

Create grain-to-glass story for marketing. It was a big success and we have not seen this done before. The facebook and social media created a buzz. 

Identify market trends (i.e. light wheat beer in winter? new emerging flavors?) We found the emerging flavors such as heavier and darker beers do better in winter (i.e. stouts, peanut butter beer, etc). Beer consumption other then the holidays is less then summer months. Light beers are favored for summer. A great water source for making beer (and malting) is critical. The cities across Minnesota have a large range of quality of water.

Build a steady income stream for farmers locally to build as a community.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Melany Thomas - Producer
  • Owen Trangsrud - Producer


Materials and methods:

This project will be implemented between three farms, growing three different crop varieties to be tested throughout harvest for various components useful for maltster and brewers, such as, protein levels, moisture, and vomitoxin. Testing will be done, then the grains will be brought to Vertical Malt for malting then to various breweries. Four breweries have already said they will try out the grains.

For the plots for the grains, each plot needs to produce 6000 pounds. Each batch size for the malting process requires a minimum of 2500 pounds of grain; including shrinkage involved within this process, an estimated 150 bushels of grain per farm, or 5 acres. The farms will need a minimum of 3 batches per year for a comprehensive study on these specific grains marketed to maltsters and brewers.

The three grains used for this project (organic heritage barley, oats, and wheat) have a successful yield history in the Red River Valley and have positive projections in the growing market for a diversity of malt. Older varieties of wheat has historically been grown for flour, a process that requires hulling of the outer shell and is thus decreasing the demand for the grain for this purpose. Malting does not require the hulling process, allowing for a market for the grains to be more readily used; keeping ancient grain and heritage varieties available, and preserving them.

The malting of the grain will be done by Vertical Malt, a small scale malting operation out of Crookston, MN with a reputation for reliable and tasteful malt production.  This grant provides a new market for the company, while providing more research for the industry as a whole.

Research results and discussion:

We were able to malt oats, wheat and organic barley. It took a bit to get grains to standard for malting as they had to be cleaned and also tested to make sure there were no aflatoxins. The malting of the oats had not been done before at the malter so we had to run many tests to figure out best practices. We were able to sell some of the malted barley and it tested very well for malting. The malted oats have no standard for testing so we are working on establishing them. The oats proved to be more challenging to get right temperatures, soaking days and malting quality. The first batch was a bit bitter and further testing will be done.

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

2 Consultations
2 On-farm demonstrations
4 Published press articles, newsletters
2 Tours
5 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Workshop field days
2 Other educational activities: Tour/field days at the Breweries- a connection of farmers, extension staff and brewery owners as well as happy consumers.

Participation Summary:

40 Farmers participated
4 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

May 7th, 2019 - Meet our Oat-standing Farmers Event. This event was the first of a series for meeting farmers (as well as networking for all farmers) and a presentation on brew ingredients as well as adjuncts used in making beer. The lively event was hosted by Half-Brothers Brewery. Half-Brothers also made a beer from the malted barley and heritage oats. They also developed a beer label on a can with a picture of one of the farmers on it. There were 10 farmers, brewery staff, as well as 50 others who also took part in a trivia contest of beer facts, barley growing, and Q and A of the farmers attending.

"Here is the facebook description"- 

Join us for the release of OAT-Standing! Oat pale ale brewed with Doubting Thomas Join Farms’ local oats and Vertical Malt’s local barley; OAT-Standing is all about supporting local farmers. We are going beyond drinking locally brewed beer, to drinking beer made with ingredients sourced within 70 miles from Half Brothers Brewing.


July 7th through the 10th. Tour of a brewery and tour of the farm with looking at barley and heritage grains. The tour was well attended as part of a conference on Nutrient Dense Foods and Beverages. There were 35 PhD Biochemists, 17 farmers, brewery staff, and several college students.

August 29th 2019 at the MN State Fair we had an outreach event in the Horticulture Building talking about barley, oats, and heritage grains. We also launched the first 100% Minnesotan Beer. There were hundreds of people crammed into the building. About 12 farmers, 3 Extension staff, and hundreds of beer drinkers.

September 29th, 2019 -What's In Your Beer? Sunday FUNDay- Presentation of farmers and a talk about making beer with using MN Grown grains followed by trivia. There were hop growers, grain growers, and malters. 7 Farmers, 1 buyer of grains and 50 others.

The article in the Pioneer Press, as well as the thousands who saw it on social media, were not counted in the numbers above.

Doubting Thomas Facebook Coverage

Learning Outcomes

3 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

We learned a lot about the brewing industry and are still learning. We were able to make connections with several breweries and it effects our farm as well as the others by opening up a niche market . It also causes to help set some standards for ourselves that really were not shared and some by trail and error we figured out. Selection of varieties of grains is very important as well as working with the chain of supply from field to glass. Our promotions and relations improved with having outreach to the breweries.  

Without this grant we could NOT of made any headway. It was a very steep growing curve but very enjoyable. I also see that farmers need to form some kind of group collectively. We also had to figure out cleaning, bagging, delivery and storage all very important peices.


Project Outcomes

2 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
10 New working collaborations
Success stories:

The Grain-to-Glass Story was generated on social media and at Half-brothers Brewery in Grand Forks, ND. We wound up hosting a trivia contest hosted by the farmers. Bread made commercially from the spent grains were the prizes along with brewery malting swag. Roundhouse Brewery in Brainerd hosted a local supper and event as outreach too. Tickets were sold for the dinner with all of it selling out. The hops grower (Mighty Axe Hops) and Vertical Malt attended and it was well received. Social media was 3.2 thousand views with about 65 people showing up. It was busy trying to line everything up with breweries and takes a lot of time to execute the efforts but well with it.  

Lakes and Legions Brewery rolled out the first Mn Grown Beer. The buzz from the event was huge. The first day the beer sold out and more was quickly brought in to provide for consumers. The buzz was everything from Pioneer Press to The Growler (see media attached). Lakes & Legends_MN HAZE_MediaAlert_7.29.19  and social media.  We were part of that and helped to be one of the top sellers at the Minnesota State Fair! It was a crazy exciting ride with new connections made as well as a high water mark for us. 

Another exciting outcome is that the malted oats are being used by several chefs such as Dan Barber at Blue Hill in New York. The malted oats serves a purpose of both the brewery industry and the food industry. The project has branched off into new markets. The heritage varieties have flavors that add to the food as well.  The malted oats now are being served in Bernbaums in Fargo, ND. I gave them some and they are like an artist with a new crayon--happy to have something new. They rolled out a hot cereal in November and people love the flavor of the porridge. They are working on more combos, and Dan Barber in New York is "playing" with the samples as well.  So food and brew have both merged and I find the work exciting. The marketing will take more time as brewery staff feels comfortable. The plans are in the works for Minnesota Grown Beer at the State Fair again in 2020. See you there!    







Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.