Developing Winter Barley as an Alternative Crop to Capture an Emerging Market and Increase Diversification and Sustainability

Progress report for ONC21-086

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2021: $40,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Department of Agronomy & Horticulture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Cody Creech
Department of Agronomy & Horticulture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
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Project Information


Winter barley is a versatile crop with applications ranging from feed and food to beverage manufacturing. The University of Nebraska (UNL) has an active winter barley breeding program and has released several promising varieties. However, adoption and production have been limited due to a lack of market. Recently, a group of interested Nebraska farmers has come to the University of Nebraska expressing the desire to include winter barley into their dryland cropping systems due in part to the consistently high yields of varieties bred by the UNL barley breeding program. They have connected with a regional grain mill to market the grain and identify quality parameters for production. These producers and the grain mill have consulted with Nebraska researchers for guidance on production methods. This research and educational partnership with these growers, grain mill, and Nebraska researchers will identify preferred varieties and production methods to meet the grain quality criteria of the grain mill while also maximizing grain yield. As this project develops beyond this initial effort, other farmers across the region will be brought in to produce barley to meet the market demand. Results will be shared with growers at field days, workshops, and publications.

Project Objectives:

Our objectives to be conducted on-farm with farmer cooperators will be: (1) to evaluate commercially available and experimental winter barley varieties for performance and adaptability to the High Plains region; (2) to determine the optimal seeding population that will enable the crop to maximize yield meet quality parameters; (3) evaluate fertility management options to enhance grain quality; (4) Disseminate research results through field days, extension and peer-reviewed publications, media outlets, and winter research updates to provide farmers with the knowledge and resources necessary to be successful growing winter barley.


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Materials and methods:

Objective 1. Evaluate commercially available winter barley and experimental genotypes being developed in breeding programs for performance and adaptability to the High Plains region. This objective will seek to build upon the work the UNL winter barley breeding program is doing at University research locations to evaluate winter barley under different environments managed by farmers. The opportunity for farmers to see how varieties perform on their own farms under their management will provide them with the needed confidence to commit additional acres to growing a new crop considering much of the breeding work is conducted in higher rainfall areas of Nebraska and Kansas. Weather data will be recorded daily on a nearby weather station.

Objective 2. Determine optimal seeding population that will enable the crop to optimize yield and also meet grain quality parameters. For any crop to be successful, it must yield well to be profitable for the farmer and also must meet grain quality standards to be marketable. Three high yielding varieties identified from previous testing will be seeded at 600,000, 800,000, 1M, 1.2M, and 1.4M seeds per acre using 10-inch row spacing. Grain yield, grain quality data, and milling data will be collected. Ardent Mills has committed to partnering with us to process samples to generate milling and quality data.

Objective 3. Develop fertility recommendations to meet grain yield and quality standards. Nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur and zinc will be applied at different timings, rates, and combinations to evaluate fertility impact on grain yield and quality. Using soil tests as a guide, nitrogen will be applied at 25, 50, 75, 100, and 125% in the fall, spring, and as 33/66 fall and spring split application. Phosphorus will be applied in-furrow using the same rates in the fall only. Zinc and sulfur will be also be applied in the fall only at low, normal, and high rates with nitrogen and phosphorus at 75%.

Objective 4. Disseminate research results through field days, extension and peer-reviewed publications, and winter research updates for farmers. Education and outreach efforts will be largely driven by farmers at our field research locations where peer to peer learning can take place and concepts can be observed visually. Further dissemination of data and promotion of results will be done through: timely newspaper articles, extension e-news (CropWatch), social media, fact sheets, presentations at conferences (e.g. Annual Sustainable Ag Crop and Livestock Conference in Ogallala, NE), off-season workshops, and ultimately peer-reviewed journal publications.

Research results and discussion:

2021 - Winter barley was seeded in the fall at three locations around western Nebraska to accomplish the objectives of the project. Soil sampling and applying treatments is underway and response variables will be measured in 2022.

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

The project was established in the fall of 2021. Field days and other educational/outreach events are planned for 2022.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Although the project is just getting underway, the primary outcome of this project will be to demonstrate to farmers that winter barley can be a viable alternative crop in their rotations. The secondary outcome will be production recommendations tailored for the area that will enable farmers to maximize production, reduce inputs and costs, limit risk, and increase profitability. This will lead to the third outcome which will be successful outreach, programming, and engagement opportunities with area farmers to educate, provide resources, and create networking opportunities for farmers to engage in peer-to-peer learning and interact with industry partners, and answer questions.

Immediate impacts will be measured using surveys to measure knowledge before and after events. Reach of social media and published fact sheets and articles will be measured using built-in analytics. Long-term impacts will be measured by adoption of recommendations and continued market stability for pearled winter barley. Acres of winter barley planted, harvested, and marketed can be obtained from USDA-NASS and elevators that receive the grain. University ag economists can utilize crop budgets and average production to estimate dollars gained by those producing grain sorghum and the impact those added dollars will have on the farmers own operation and the rural farming community in general.

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.