Examining varieties of alternative grain crop: Malt barley and its efficacy in a double-grain cropping system in New Jersey

Final report for FNE16-853

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2016: $14,543.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2019
Grant Recipient: Swampy Vale Farm
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Henry Muehlbauer
Swampy Vale Farm
Expand All

Project Information

Summary:

With the explosion of microbreweries in the Northeast and rising interest in sourcing local ingredients, malt barley offers a promising solution as an alternative specialty grain crop. The goal of this project is to trial malt barley as part of a double cropping system to provide a more profitable means of growing grain crops in New Jersey. We performed a variety trial, replicated at two central New Jersey farms, to compare four selected varieties of two-row (Maja, Scala, Tepee and Wint Malt) and one six-row (Thoroughbred) malt barley. These trials served to determine which, if any, are promising as an alternative winter grain crop in a double cropping system. All barley varieties showed good germination and consistent growth throughout the season. This growth resulted in statistically similar yields across all studied varieties (~45 bu/acre). Malt barley is required to meet a number of quality standards to be utilized for malting (i.e. germination percentage, starch percentage, and fusarium toxin percentage). Unfortunately, none of the varieties tested in our trial met these quality standards. We conclude that while there is promise in growing barley in New Jersey for malt production, double cropping with corn likely contributed to undesirable barley quality. In the future, we will continue to trial malt barley, though double cropped with different grain crops like soybeans.

Local farmers learned of the results through many venues including the joint NJ Vegetable Growers Association and NJ Agriculture Convention Meeting (February 6, 2018) where we presented a poster and handouts on the results of the project during the Farm Brewery Crops session. 

Project Objectives:

This trial’s primary objective is to compare a total of five winter malt barley varieties to determine which, if any, meet standard quality parameters when produced in a double cropping grain system (between a corn and soybean rotation). We are seeking to determine if planting, maintaining and harvesting winter malt barley will be economically sustainable for grain farmers in New Jersey. We collaborated with one other grain farmer (Hahola Farms) to provide additional replications of each variety. Technical advisor Edwin Dager assisted in planning field preparation, planting depth, seeding population and layout of each replicated trial. An additional technical advisor, NJAES Burlington County Agent William Bamka, provided guidance and assistance in field preparation and maintenance of the trial.

Introduction:

As corn and soy seed prices continue to rise, while market prices continue to drop, it has become increasingly difficult for farmers to justify growing them as primary grain crops in New Jersey. These commodity grain crops no longer promote an economically sustainable system for farmers. According to a recent New York Times article, farmers that were able to largely avoid financial damages from both the recent financial crisis and Great Recession are now in the throes of hard economic times. The USDA predicts farm income will fall as much as 54% from where it was two years ago, making current farm income the third-lowest it’s ever been since the 1980s. Market prices, as determined by the Chicago Board of Trade, have seen stark drops with corn, falling from $7.50 per bushel three years ago to $3.78 per bushel. Similarly, soybeans  that commanded $15 per bushel two years ago from co-ops are now achieving $8.90 per bushel.

According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the average size of a New Jersey farm is 71 acres. With a greater number of small acreage grain farms in New Jersey compared to the Midwest, these economic trends will have a damaging impact on small grain farmers’ ability to remain economically viable. Understanding that economic hardships facing grain farmers in New Jersey may not be a temporary trend, new opportunities must be explored. Diversification of grain cropping systems to include potentially lucrative crops to benefit not only the farmer, but the surrounding community and infrastructure is the key to reviving an economic sustainable agriculture system, while also promoting environmental and socially sustainable practices.

A feasibility trial for malt barley production was previously done in 1997-98 at Rutgers University. The study examined whether several spring malt barley varieties grown in New Jersey would perform well and have suitable grain characteristics for it to supply the micro brewery industry. Results indicated that the varieties tested grew well in New Jersey’s climate, but did not have suitable grain characteristics for malting. It was concluded that barley could be grown in New Jersey, but its market would be limited to straw production (Bamka, 1999). Since this study, the micro brewery industry in the United States has flourished. In New Jersey alone, there are currently 43 existing breweries and an additional 40 breweries in planning. This interest has sparked an increasing number of research trials looking at growing and breeding winter malt barley to supply to local breweries in the northeastern US (Garden State Craft Brewers Guild).

A significant portion of recent research on winter barley production for malting has involved breeding varieties better adapted for production in the Northeast climate and enhancement of malting traits. A component of winter malt barley breeding is to hybridize the vigor of a six-row barley with the malting characteristics of a two-row barley. Newly-developed varieties include Endeavor (developed in collaboration between the USDA and University of Idaho), and Medina (developed at Cornell University), which are just two of the newly recommended winter barleys for the Northeastern US. Yields and malt characteristics of these varieties were very promising in northwestern NY trials, where yields were upwards of 50 bu/acre and kernels had lower percentages of protein content (10-13%) (Darbey, 2015; Varbeten, 2014). As these new varieties are brought onto the market it is necessary to test their performance in a range of growing zones. Until now, little to no work has been done to assess winter malt varieties in New Jersey.

Bamka, W.J. 1999. “Evaluation of Spring Malting Barley Production”. New Jersey Grain and Forage Journal.
Volume 6. P. 1-5.
Darby, H. 2015. “2014 Winter Barley Variety Trial” University of Vermont Extension.
Schwartz, P. and Horsley, R. “A comparison of North American Two-Row and six-row malting barley”. The
Brewers Market Guide.
Varbeten, B. 2014. “2014 Winter Malting Barley Varieties”. Cornell University Cooperative Extension.
Garden State Craft Brewers Guild, http://njbeer.org/

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Ed Dager
  • William Bamka

Research

Materials and methods:

The trial was laid out at both farms in a randomized complete block design to evaluate 5 different varieties of winter malt barley, four 2-row and one 6-row variety, with 2 replications of each variety at each farm site. Field Preparation: We have deviated from our proposed plan to fertilize in the fall and will instead fertilize the fields in the spring of 2017. Soil test results from spring 2016 have been collected for each field to determine the soil fertility requirements. Corn yields from the fall 2016 will be taken into account when determine how much nitrogen has been extracted and therefore, must be added back to the soil. Following field corn harvest in late September, corn stover was cut down by means of disking (twice per field). Both 5 acre fields were disked for the trial using a 1020 Kewanee Disk on a 4320 John Deere tractor. Each of the field plots are separated by markers to discern varieties and replications within each field.

Planting: The field trial was planted using a 1560 John Deere no-till drill on a 1086 International tractor. The tractor was set to 7.5” spacing between rows and a .75” seeding depth, seedling rates differed based upon variety (seed weight) to obtain a final population of 1.5 millions seeds per acre. Seeding rates were as follows and each plot was .5 acres: Wint Malt: 90.75 lbs per plot Scala: 90.76 lbs per plot Maja: 36.3 lbs per plot Tepee: 72.85 lbs per plot Thoroughbred: 54.5 lbs per plot Swampy Vale Farm Replications 1 and 2 were planted on October 24, 2016. Hahola Farm Replication 1 was planted October 19, 2016, and Replication 2 was planted October 30, 2016. Maintenance: Fertilizer will be applied as per soil test recommendations and corn yield determinations, in the spring of 2017. Bird repellent tape was strung onto stakes throughout each 5 acre field to deter birds, the primary animal pest to disturb barley early in the season. We have and will continue to use integrated pest management threshold levels to monitor whether pesticides are necessary throughout the growing season. This will be most critical in the spring as the weather gets warmer. We have been and continue to record observations of each plot every week throughout the season.

Early season (November 2016) pictures were taken of each plot and compiled into the photos seen below in the Results and Discussion section. Early season data has also been taken on average germination rates, where the plants in three .45ft2 areas of each plot were counted and averaged to extrapolate the number of germinated seeds per acre for each variety. This data is illustrated in Figure 1. Both Mid season and late season observations will be taken in the early and late spring respectively. The Rutgers University Snyder Research farm is within 5 miles of each farm and the daily weather log taken there will be used for our weather data.

All of the varieties grew well throughout the season.  As the barley was beginning to head (seed heads had emerged) the plots were evaluated to compare growth stages.  The dates of these evaluations were May 12, 2017 (Jacobson Farm) and April 26, 2017 (Swampy Vale Farm) Field Assessment Approximately 1.5 months before harvest with similar growth stages of each variety in each field.  You can see this in the attached document labeled Barley picture growth stages.  

Once harvest was nearing, grain samples (~8 ounces) were obtained from each of the plots and moisture was tested using an Agritronix MT-Pro moisture tester.  Once moisture levels were below 14% subsamples of approximately 2 pounds of grain were randomly hand collected from each plot.  Following sample collection, samples were hand threshed and dried at room temperature for 24 hours.  Following drying the samples were put into plastic bags and shipped out to Hartwick College Center for Craft Food and Beverage to be analyzed for biochemical quality.

Subsequent to the harvest of test samples, the remainder of the plot was harvested with an International 2166 Combine, with a 17 foot grain head.  Ground speed of the harvest was 2.5-3 mph to preserve the barley quality, rotor speed was 550, fan speed was 900 and concave setting was set to 2.  Each plot was harvested separately and yields were calculated automatically by the combine computer.  Final moisture of the grain at harvest ranged from 5.8-10.6%.  

Differences in average yields, were assessed using an analysis of variance and test of differences in ls means was performed on the data using PROC Mixed in the program SAS v. 9.4 where replication and farm were both designated as a random effects. 

Research results and discussion:

Results

Fall 2016

All four plots for each variety were assessed for growth rate in the fall of 2016, several weeks after planting.  Winter malt barley success is very contingent upon early germination success and root growth establishment.  All plots showed similarly adequate germination (as illustrated in the photos below),thus ensuring out trial was off to a good start.

Spring 2017

Plots were assessed again a few weeks prior to harvest for general growth progression, signs of significant winter damage, and disease pressure.  All varieties showed equally adequate growth as evidenced by the pictures below.  At this time though, it was noted that all of the varieties showed variable growth stages, although it was not an issue for our trial this could lead to challenges when finding an appropriate harvest window.  Insect pressure from cereal leaf beetle was also spotted at the Swampy vale farm site by this time.

Final Results

The plots were harvested in the early summer of 2017.  Yield data was collected and subsamples were sent out for biochemical data analysis. This includes germination energy, the levels of the fungal toxins (DON test), protein content, plumpness, kernel weight, and ground grain viscosity.  All of which are critical in determining the market price of malt barley to malt house buyers.

Average yields between replications at each site were calculated and illustrated in Figure 1.  Scala, Wint Malt and Tepee all showed similar yields at each site.  Interestingly, Thoroughbred and Maja had fairly different yields between sites.  However when averaged between sites and statistically analyzed no signficant differences in yields were found between any of the five varieties tested (Figure 2).

The results showed that the average yield of each variety studied were equal at the p<0.05 level of significance.

In assessing the yield data at first glance (Figure 1), average yields were generally similar across farms for each variety with the exception of Thoroughbred and Maja.  Thoroughbred yielded approximately 30 bu/acre more at the Jacobson farm than Swampy Vale Farm and Maja yielded approximately 20 bu/acre more at the Jacobson farm than Swampy Vale Farm. 

To utilize barley for malting purposes the grain must retain a number of important characteristics including a moderate protein content, significant amount of germination energy and must have little to know detectable levels of the fungus fusarium.  After averaging all of these data points for each variety, none were found to meet these criteria.  Wint Malt showed potential with an adequate protein content (10.9%), fairly high germination capacity (84.5%), rapid visco analysis (another test of germination capacity) of 152, and DON level of 2.93.  The main factor that made Wint Malt still unsalable as malt barley was the DON level, this toxin is very dangerous and levels of DON above 1 ppm are unacceptable.

Variety

Protein %, DB

Plump >6/64″ %

Thin <5/64″ %

Germination Energy 4mL, %

Germination Energy 8mL, %

Germination Capacity, %

RVA

DON (ppm)

Wint Malt

10.9

95.93

1.23

89.75

65

84.5

152

2.93

Maja

12.6

85.23

2.83

54.75

44.25

70.25

71

20.3

Scala

10.55

98.6

0.55

85

68.5

86

164

3.85

Tepee

13.1

97.5

0.8

69.67

66

69

150

2.23

Thoroughbred

13.2

89.4

1.75

88.5

83.5

89

136

3.8

Desired

9.5-12.5

>80

—–

95

95

95

>120

<1

Discussion

One of the primary components of deciding on which variety to grow is based upon the potential yield per acre.  Through our study it was found that all five varieties (Scala, Wint Malt, Tepee, Thoroughbred, and Maja) resulted in a statistically similar yield per acre (~45 bu/acre). 

Research conclusions:

Growing barley for malting purposes requires growers to look beyond yield per acre to a number of other biochemical components.  These include percentage of protein, kernel size (plumpness), percentage of germination, sprouting damage and fusarium levels.  The varieties Wint Malt, Maja, and Scala all fell within commercially desirable protein levels for a malt house.  However, in terms of size all of the varieties showed large enough kernels (>6/64 of an inch).  Interestingly though none of the varieties in our trial resulted in germination rates high enough to be acceptable for malt production.  The highest, Thoroughbred (88.5% in 4 mL, and 83.5% in 8 mL), was still several percentage points shy of the desired 95% level.  Relative viscosity, a starch test that extrapolates and predicts how long a load of barley will store for, and the malting quality of the grain, was found to be far above acceptable levels for all varieties except Maja.  Lastly, the fusarium levels, a dangerous fungal contaminant, were all found to be slightly above the acceptable level of 1 ppm with the exception of Maja which was found to be 20.3 ppm.

Unfortunately, none of the varieties grown seemed particularly suitable for double cropping after feed corn.  This was in large part due to the high Fusarium levels detected in all of the varieties tested, which was likely attributable to the field corn debris.  In looking at the other malt barley characteristics, the varieties Wint Malt and Scala stood out as having nearly all of the other quality levels meet the commercial standards. 

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

20 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 Webinars / talks / presentations

Participation Summary

200 Farmers
10 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:

We have spoken about this grant project to several local brewers who all showed great interest in sourcing local barley for their beer. Over the next few months we hope to generate greater grassroots support and interest for local malt barley demand in New Jersey. As the demand increases the results from this project will be critical in helping farmers decide which varieties are best to grow in a double cropping system in New Jersey.

We had several education and outreach activities planned for this past year.  The first of which was the joint NJ Vegetable Growers Association and NJ Agriculture Convention Meeting (February 6, 2018) where we presented a poster and handouts on the results of the project during the Farm Brewery Crops session.  Furthermore,  through the two FS Growmark meetings (February 2018), both focusing on grain crops, we gave presentations on the project and provided handouts detailing the results.  Finally, the Hunterdon County Board of Ag Meeting (March 7, 2018) included a presentation of results; with the majority of the members being grain farmers.

We will ensure that the results are continually presented in the future at all available opportunities.  Including open houses at the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Snyder Research Farm.

Learning Outcomes

20 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

Barley-Poster

The attached poster was utilized as a visual teaching aid during all presentations of this project to growers.  After each of the three presentations numerous growers asked questions that indicated they had gained significant knowledge about growing barley for malt production.  Many farmers had grown small grains, but have never had to meet the same quality standards necessary to sell small grains i.e. barley to a malt house.  Questions from farmers ranged from clarification on the spray regimes, fertility requirements, and harvest methods.  This information has been critical in laying the ground work for an alternative small grain industry in the state and region.

Project Outcomes

3 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
15 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

This project was beneficial in that the grain farmers in the Central New Jersey and Pennsylvania have a greater awareness of which varieties could be most effectively used for malt barley production and of the inputs required to produce a high quality crop.  Unfortunately, through this project we also learned it is very difficult to double crop malt barley with corn and/or soybeans due to seasonal time constraints and extreme variability in the weather.  Malt barley still has potential to be grown as a stand alone spring crop; however, it will be difficult for growers to consistently produce both a high yielding and high quality barley crop in the region.  Through the project we have also learned that a major impediment to malt barley production is proximity to a local malt house, although there are two in our area they quickly reach capacity, which makes the costly farm storage a necessity.

As a result of this project our farm and our collaborating farm: Hahola Farm, have begun to trial different alternative small grains, specifically wheat, for flour production.  The quick turn over and significant market demand have made this a similar although more viable alterative small grain market.  Although, the integration of this small grain into a double cropping system will likely face the same challenges.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

After focusing our project on planting barley, we saw that we should have expanded our trial to include additional alternative small grains i.e. wheat, sorghum or millet, that could be adopted into a double cropping system.  The market and more specifically, malt house limitation was an added difficulty in the feasibility of this crop for NJ/PA growers.  Ultimately, we see that malt barley production is not feasible in a double cropping system at the moment; however, we do suspect that this could change in the future, especially with the establishment of more local malt houses.  From our observations, the potential of a wheat to small grain mill system appears to be a more lucrative double cropped small grain alternative for New Jersey grain farmers.

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.