Inclusion of winter barley in cropping systems can increase crop diversity, thus potentially buffering against volatile or low commodity prices. The rapidly expanding craft malting and brewing industries creates a demand for regionally grown barley and can provide a more stable market value for barley growers. Furthermore, winter barley can be harvested up to three weeks before winter wheat, which provides a critical window to add a second crop and improve net profit per acre. In addition to potential economic benefits, double-cropping winter barley and soybeans can improve environmental sustainability by requiring lower inputs than corn or spring barley, providing a winter “cover,” and subsequently placing lower stress on water quality compared to other traditional field crops. To examine the potential for double-cropping with malting barley in the Great Lakes region, a diverse team of farmers, industry representatives, MSU Extension Educators and faculty have assembled to explore this opportunity through on-farm research and targeted outreach efforts. Although the project will be based in southern and mid-Michigan, its outcomes will impact the entire North Central Region where winter malting barley is a re-emerging crop but lacks significant research on double-cropping options.
The project goal is to develop agronomic management practices and better understand the economics of double- cropping beans after winter barley. Objectives include:
- Support on-farm research trials throughout Michigan, representing the Great Lakes region where malting barley is a re-emerging crop
- Evaluate detailed research questions related to double-crop integration in a controlled university setting
- Further develop a robust partnership between farmers, extension, faculty, and industry
- Distribute information throughout the region on methods and economics to farmers, industry representatives, and educators
- Explore potential for improved profitability of barley cropping systems and increased ecosystem services (e.g. soil health, reduced nutrient loss, increased biodiversity)
A replicated trial was conducted at KBS to evaluate the potential and profitability to double crop soybeans, forage crops and cover crops after a crop of winter malting barley (Puffin). Soybean maturity groups (MG) included 1.9, 2.4 and 2.8, all of which were planted at 140,000 seeds per acre and 200,000 seeds per acre. Additionally, one large block of the experiment was irrigated whereas another block was not irrigated. In each block, we also included a treatment of sorghum-sudan for forage, and a diverse cover crop mix.
The winter barley was harvested on June 30th, and the second crops were no-till planted on July 2nd. We received ample rainfall in August and September of 2018, but still applied 5 inches of irrigation water to the irrigated block, mostly in July after seeding. Due to a significant amount of rainfall in the fall, soybean plots weren’t harvested until mid-December.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Results of these trials have been presented at the AMBA BIC conference, and will be presented at the Great Lakes Hop and Barley Conference and other conferences / meetings that allow. We will also be creating a report that will be distributed through our listserv and social media, and posted to our website. Field days were held at KBS in June and November of 2018, and June and September of 2019. The early field days highlighted the plans for the project, and the later field days showed the field trials.
After the project was initiated, we’ve developed a new relationship with Eric Richer with Ohio State University Extension – Fulton County (https://fulton.osu.edu/people/eric-richer), who is working with a number of farmers to evaluate double cropping after winter barley in northern Ohio. We invited Eric to join and present at our Great Lakes Hop and Barley Conference in Traverse City, MI, and have continued to develop that relationship to learn together. We’ve also initiated a relationship with Dr. Tim Boring, Vice President of the Michigan Agribusiness Association (https://miagbiz.org/index.php/about/staff). Dr. Boring is a leader related to innovative agricultural practices in Michigan, including implementing many trials on his own family farms, and leading innovation groups and networks such as the 2018 and 2019 Underground Innovations Conferences in Frankenmuth, MI.
Origin Malt from Marysville, OH, and Independent Barley and Malt from Litchfield, MI, have continued to be strategic partners both on research and education. Origin, in particular, has been purchasing barley from farmers for the past couple of years, and double cropping soybeans is a key portion of profitability for those farmers. Dr. Wilke has been participating in a number of interactions (webinars, phone calls) with farmers that grow for Origin, helping assist with barley production as well as cropping system questions.
Both 2018 and 2019 had wet, cold springs that led to delayed crop development, and later barley harvest relative to 2017. Later barley harvest has resulted in more challenging conditions to successfully double crop soybeans. While we feel confident in our research plot data, we would like to extend this partnership project for one more year at no extra cost, to provide more opportunities for independent growers to evaluate double crop methods, including failures and successes. We also have increasing number of growers in Michigan that are producing barley for Origin and Independent, which will provide more opportunities for evaluation and education.
Confirmed ability to plant soybeans after winter barley, even in mid-Michigan
Realized that the timing of getting soybeans planted ASAP after harvest can be difficult to accomplish in a timely manner
Improved understanding of what maturity groups can be grown after winter barley in different areas
Experience with relay intercropping, which was not successful in the one farm that tried it
Increased excitement about the possibility to utilize this system
Southern Michigan is usually not considered as a location where double cropping is possible, except in rare cases in the far southern portion of the state where soybeans or vegetable crops are planted after wheat. Winter barley is harvested approximately 10 days prior to wheat, which can make a big difference in the ability to double crop soybeans or dry beans after the cereal grain crop.
After one year, this project has demonstrated that double cropping after winter barley is possible in multiple locations across Michigan, including Bay County which is in mid-Michigan. Yields ranged from 25 – 45 bushels across participating farms and research plots. Furthermore, we are helping to narrow in on what soybean maturity groups are best suited for double cropping; 1.9 and 2.4 maturities matured prior to killing frost, but not 2.8 maturity soybeans.
The ability to double crop provides for increased production per acre, more profit potential per acre, and living plants growing in the field in the summer following wheat harvest. The extra profit potential with the double crop helps to minimize the economic risk of growing malting barley, which can be profitable if quality barley is produced, but unprofitable if it cannot be sold for malting quality.
We have more to learn in the second year of the project, including a better understanding of how irrigation affects the second crop of soybeans, and more on-farm trials to evaluate the ability to double crop in different areas and management systems.
Much to our surprise, a farmer in mid Michigan planted soybeans on June 5th (1.1 maturity group) after winter barley, and yielded 26 bushels per acre without irrigation, including reaching maturity prior to the first killing frost. We did not expect to be able to double crop as far north as mid-Michigan, but only in southern Michigan, so this was a great surprise.
We also experienced yields of 40-45 bushels per acre of soybeans in the research trials at the Kellogg Biological Station, after harvesting 75 bushels per acre of high quality barley, and irrigation made little difference in the yield. These yields clearly make it a profitable endeavor to grow this double crop sequence.
We are excited for another year of trials, including more on-farm collaborators, and further developing our new partnership with Ohio State University Extension and the farmers involved in associated projects there.