California growers are susceptible to commodity price fluctuations. One option in alleviating
commodity price stress is seeking out higher-value alternative crops. An ideal option for
California is malting barley as it can replace wheat as a winter grass in crop rotations and
typically fetches a higher price per acre than wheat.
As the craft brewing industry develops in California and malt houses begin to spring up in the
state to meet the demand for locally-sourced barley, California growers stand to benefit from
varieties of barley that are regionally specific to the states diverse ‘terroirs’. Growth in the
malting barley industry also increases the chances that growers will cover their fields with a crop
in winter rather than leaving land fallow if wheat prices are too low. This can provide numerous
benefits related to reducing soil erosion, runoff, and nitrate leaching into groundwater.
This project will bridge the gap from farm to glass in evaluating both agronomic and brewing
performance of five different malting barley varieties grown in the same agronomic
conditions with carefully controlled malting regimes.
Thereby this project aims to:
• Provide information and data which will reduce market entry barriers for growers,
improve grower capacity to produce quality malting barley, improve grower ability to
negotiate stronger contracts, and in conjunction with University of California’s Statewide
variety trials, select more appropriate varieties for their conditions;
• Provide additional data to maltsters and brewers to build industrial capacity in the region;
• Participate in a public awareness campaign to raise awareness among consumers of the
role that different varieties of barley play in their beverages.
By using available tools to meet the challenge of developing markets and uncertain commodity
prices, growers stand to benefit as the local craft brewing grows.
1) Generate supplemental data to ongoing statewide variety trials in growth, yield, disease
resistance, and post-harvest grain quality of four varieties of California-appropriate
barley and one variety of heritage malting barley (Klages malting barley).
2) Malt five varieties of malting barley in different 500lb batches with different kilning
regimes (pilsner malt, pale malt, 8 Lovibond Munich, 30 Lovibond Chocolate).
3) Brew separate beers styles with each of the five varieties according to standardized
brewing practices (i.e. helles lager, pale ale, India pale ale, amber/red, stout…).
4) Quantify tasting notes from panel of cicerones and volunteers.
5) Evaluate final barley/ beer combinations for key brewing quality factors. Primarily:
extract yield, pH, residual sugars (% and profile), stability, FAN, protein, and turbidity.
6) Publish a malting barley production guide for California growers on UC Websites.
7) Publish brewing results in 2-3 popular brewing periodicals, and among 2-3 large
California periodicals to generate public interest and awareness.
8) Present agronomic findings to growers at UCCE grower meetings throughout the state;
9) Present malting/ brewing findings to the craft brewing industry;
10) Track production capacity of California malt houses and acreage under malting barley
Five varieties of malting barley were planted into Yolo clay loam on November 9th of 2017 in a randomized complete block design. Seeding rates were calibrated for 1 million individuals per acre, but actual seeding rates varied due to limitations in the precision of on-farm machinery.
|Full Pint||1.06 million|
|Klages High Population||1.31 million|
|Klages Low Population||1.05 million|
The barley was harvested from the 25th to the 26th of June of 2018. Barley was cleaned at the Foundation Seed Program in Davis and shipped to a maltster capable of handling the capacity of the harvest (Gold Rush Malt in Baker City, OR) on August 13th, 2018. Samples of each of the varieties were sent to two separate labs (Hartwick College, USDA) for analysis. This data was used by the maltster to make minor adjustments in the malting process. Samples of barley were sent again after the malting process to produce a final malt quality report for reference by brewers. Barley was malted at intervals from the time of arrival until being shipped back to Chico (Sierra Nevada) and Davis, CA on the January 9th, 2018. Due to malfunctions in the malting process (a broken belt in the malting drum), one of the barley varieties was not malted uniformly with the other varieties and so cannot be compared from a brewing standpoint.
It will still be used by local breweries for Sacramento’s Beer Week from May 10th until the 20th.
During the course of the season, a field day was held with growers, brewers, and maltsters. 18 participants were able to see the barley in the field and network with other industry representatives. Farm advisors and UC Specialists gave short presentations on findings related to barley cultivation (nitrogen management, lodging, protein, water stress) and future project goals. Barley growers shared their experience regarding soil moisture, protein, grain damage at harvest, sprouting, and appropriate pricing.
The growing season began with rains in early to mid-November before a dry period that lasted into early January and another dry period until the beginning of March. Late-season rain was brought rainfall totals for the winter up to 9 inches. Despite early season stress, barley protein was ideal for malting quality in all varieties. This may have been due to the fact that initial soil moisture was likely somewhat high following seed melon harvest.
Yields were measured using freight scales at UC Foundation Seed Program. Standard error was not available because subsamples were not collected during harvest, although varieties were separated.
Yields for the varieties are as follows:
|Full Pint||1.06 million||4574.33|
|Klages High Population||1.31 million||2599.28|
|Klages Low Population||1.05 million||2493.32|
Another wheat experiment that was harvested in the same field produced a range of coefficients of variance (COV) between 2% and 18%. Assuming a very conservative 18% error in the barley experiment, the significant differences in yield are only apparent between heritage varieties (Klages High/ Klages Low) and modern varieties. Only at about 6% error does Odyssey outyield Genie (but is still insignificantly different from Tahoe and Full Pint).
Lodging rates were highest in the high-population Klages (45-50%). But were similar in the low-population Klages (40-50%). Better lodging rate measurements were confounded by regular N-rich areas in each of the plots due to residual nitrogen from the previous crop. Lodging was almost 100% in areas where seed melons had been gathered into windrows during the previous season. Lodging was still high in lower-N areas, but the rates dropped off in between windrows. Soil N values in windrow areas prior to planting were greater than 20ppm Nitrate-N, outside of those areas, values were <20ppm. These numbers are estimates based on soil sampling throughout the acreage at the beginning of the season. It wasn’t until later in the season that the variability became apparent as plants matured. Modern variety lodging was less than 5%.
These results indicate several things: in these soils and with this climate, modern varieties can be planted between 1 million and 1.25 million individuals with minor lodging risk if pre-plant soil nitrate-nitrogen levels are below 20ppm. Furthermore, protein levels turned out to be reasonable despite early-season stress. This may have been due to significant late-season rains that allowed plants to build up their carbohydrate stores (although this assertion would require additional research).
Malting results indicate that there are variety-driven differences between the different barleys, particularly in factors such as beta-glucans, alpha-amylase, and friability. These data are important in informing brewers of what varieties they are looking for, which, in conjunction with yield and protein data can help growers better determine how they should approach their growing operations.
At this stage in writing the barley has been delivered to the participating breweries but has not been brewed. It will be tested for flavor profile differences (Sierra Nevada) and consumer preference (Sacramento Breweries: New Helvetia Brewing, Yolo Brewing Company, Track 7 Brewing Company).
Educational & Outreach Activities
Consultations: Growers have called into the UC Cooperative Extension Office or spoken with Konrad Mathesius at meetings regarding an interest in growing barley. Conversations typically included discussion of planting density, nitrogen rates, and varietal selections that have been successful in their area as well as information leading to other UC resources for more general barley growing information.
General Outreach: Data from these trials was integrated into the University of California’s small grains website which is accessible by the general public. General varietal information has been shared widely through presentations of multi-site data at 4 meetings throughout the year (presentations by Mark Lundy). Specific results on barley trials were shared at 3 additional presentations in program summaries by Konrad Mathesius 1 for academics, 2 for growers.
On-Farm Demonstration: During the middle of the season, a field day was held on May 8th, 2018 for growers and industry representatives (millers, brewers, seed suppliers) to network and discuss some of the difficulties associated with barley. Growers were able to observe shattered spikes, disease pressure, lodging, and some of the visual effects of different Nitrogen rates (a nitrogen-rich strip was integrated into the field as a reference point). Other growers shared their experience with attendees including fertility management programs, combine speed settings, weed problems, spray timing, and post-harvest issues.
More data will be compiled upon the completion of the project from brewers and tasters. A summary of the project will be put together in blog posts and industry publications when all data has been collected.
Farmers gained a better understanding of what barley yields can be expected in this area on high-quality soils.
From group discussions at the field day, farmers learned about the importance of (and factors associated with) keeping protein levels optimal for brewers. And that excessive protein can lead to outright rejection of grain. This necessarily motivates careful planning and use of nitrogen, as it is one of the primary drivers for protein percentage in grain.
Farmers witnessed first hand the difference between high and low nitrogen barley (specifically they were shown how a nitrogen-rich area can help serve as a reference for barley's in-season nitrogen status and health).
Farmers learned about the risk of lodging in older heritage varieties and the need to carefully control nitrogen and planting density through the use of soil sampling and equipment calibration, respectively.
Farmers learned about the growing potential for malting barley as an alternative crop in California (when wheat prices are low).
Maltsters and brewers gained a better appreciation and understanding of the risk factors associated with barley cultivation. This should inform risk calculations in price negotiations. Maltsters and brewers also learned about some of the differences in barley varieties (i.e. malt is not simply a product of the kilning process, but also the variety and even the climate/year in which it was grown).
This project so far has helped reintroduce California growers to the concept of growing malting barley and the risks associated with its cultivation. This has primed their knowledge of the crop and will improve their confidence in pursuing it in the future as markets for farm-to-fork and locally sourced agricultural products develop. They will also know that they can turn to the University of California and fellow growers when looking for information on how it is done, rather than feeling exposed to the risks associated with a new crop.
Economically, when the prices of other winter crops are down, growers will potentially have another option to turn to. This will help smooth income for growers.
This not only encourages economic viability but also means that growers are less likely to abandon winter crop rotations. Being that winter is the time when most (if not all) rainfall occurs in California, increasing the long-term overall presence of winter grasses (as opposed to fallowing in winter in preparation for a summer annual) will reduce the occurrence of runoff and soil erosion. Maintaining diverse rotations is favorable for pathogen suppression, nutrient management, and soil health. Malting barley can help when wheat prices are unfavorable to the grower, encouraging, for example, a tomato-sunflower-barley rotation instead of tomato-sunflower-tomato-sunflower rotation.
Knowledge of the risks associated with growing malting barley (due to brewer specifications in protein and environmental challenges such as lodging) will encourage growers to pursue barley cultivation deliberately and thoughtfully, carefully planning the use of fertility and cultural practices (nitrogen rates, planting densities). It will also improve their capacity to negotiate fair pricing, specifically if breweries are looking for particular varieties of barley that may be low-yielding, prone to disease, or prone to lodging.
Upcoming work with breweries will 1) Illustrate how barley variety can make a difference in the flavor of beer (if it does, it shows that location matters because different varieties perform differently depending on where they are grown, this makes the case for variety selection and breeding of locally-viable varieties; if it does not, it reduces the risk to growers that would be associated with pursuing varieties that don’t work particularly well in their conditions). 2) Raise public awareness of the fact that barley can be grown locally and generate discussion within the ‘beer-geek’ community about barley’s role in beer. This may help encourage investors to open malt houses in California, or it may encourage malt houses outside of California to seek out barley growers within California. Either way, this would augment demand for barley from local growers, and because ‘locally sourced’ as a trend does not exclude anyone (people drink beer in Oregon as well, for example), this can encourage geographically larger impacts for growers in other states/ regions.
Following a grower/ industry meeting, a small grower from Woodland was able to secure a contract with a local malting company, helping him to keep small scale operations viable rather than leasing ground to his neighbors. The malting company has more confidence investing in this grower because of the discussions that took place during the field day and the mutual understanding they have regarding the risks and advantages of growing barley in the area. The relationship allows the farmer to pursue his passion and provides a carefully-monitored high-quality product to the malting company, not to mention a good story.
A farming family from Sacramento County has discussed interest in building their own malting operation, working with other growers in the area in a co-op fashion. While this involves some financial risk, with careful planning it may provide critical income diversity for the family and their neighbors.
A brewer from the Southern Sacramento Valley has shown considerable enthusiasm for locally-sourced malt. This brewery will use the malt from this project to distinguish themselves among other brewers from around the State, unveiling unique locally-grown-and-brewed beers at San Francisco Beer Week and Sacramento Beer Week.
Due to a lack of experience working with this crop, this project was unable to provide detailed information regarding the behavior of barley in regard to:
Lodging: What planting density and nitrogen rates cause lodging in heritage varieties? How do planting density and nitrogen drive lodging when in modern varieties in conditions found in California?
Protein: What planting density and nitrogen rates are optimal for maximum yield and high quality? This project helped confirm a safe amount of nitrogen, but did not scale nitrogen to generate a curve (particularly to maintain quality consistency for later portions of the project).
Disease: 2017-2018 was a low-pressure winter/ spring for barley in the Southern Sacramento Valley. A bad year may amplify yield differences between varieties. Multiple years of data on disease pressure will be gathered from Statewide Variety Trials with the University of California.