Quality Conventional and Organic Malting Barley Production in Wisconsin

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $21,996.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Joe Bragger
Bragger Family Dairy

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: barley


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, feasibility study, value added
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: chemical control
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, sustainability measures, quality of life

    Proposal summary:


    Evaluating the production and economic feasibility of growing malting barley under conventional and organic conditions in the driftless region of Wisconsin.

    Joe Bragger, Bragger Family Farm: Joe is in partnership with his wife Noel, his brother Dan, and mother Hildegard. They have a diversified farm which includes dairy, beef, poultry, trout, and crop production. They farm a total of 1,000 acres and most crops are fed to their livestock.

    Bragger Family farms is very hilly, with 30% of their acres having a slope of 25% or greater.

    Conservation is very important to them and they were the pilot farm for the University of Wisconsin Discovery Farm Program. The Braggers are comfortable with sharing information about their farm and the practices they use. They hosted the Buffalo County Dairy Breakfast (2003) and a statewide conservation day as part of receiving the Wisconsin Conservation Farmer (2001) of the year award, and Aldo Leopold Conservation Award (2011). Malting barley fits into their farm diversification plans, their conservation plans, and their plan for more direct marketing options.

    Frank Berg, Swinn Valley Acres: Frank is in partnership with his father Melvin on a diversified certified organic dairy and crop farm. They have been certified organic since, 2003 on all of their acres. They farm a total of 450 acres, with about 80 acres in small grains and corn that are planned for the organic cash grain market. The remainder of the acres are in alfalfa, corn, and managed grazing for their dairy operation. Their farm has many steep slopes which are suited to pasture and small grains. They would like to get more involved in direct marketing organic grain, which malting barley would fit into that plan. Frank has participated in malting barley demonstration plots for the past two years.

    Mike Schlesser, Mike is a sole-proprietor, farming 400 acres with some help and advice from his father. His farm is a diversified beef and crop farm having exited the dairy business in 2011.

    Mike is looking at direct marketing options on some of his beef and would also like to diversify his crop enterprises with malting barley. Mike is very careful with his soils and looks for ways to maintain profitability and keep soil erosion to a bare minimum. The soils on his farm are very diverse and malting barley may fit well into some of the lighter sandy soils that he has on his farm. Mike has participated in malting barley demonstration plots for the past two years.

    Matt Danzinger, DS Farms: Matt is in partnership with his brother Patrick on a 500 cow dairy farm. They farm about 1,000 acres of alfalfa, oats and corn and also spread out the ownership cost of machinery by doing some custom harvesting for close neighbors. They are looking to diversify their cropping system by adding winter or spring malting barley to their rotation for improved soil health and to add further diversification to their farming portfolio


    Most of the land in the driftless area of western Wisconsin is highly erodible. Diverse farm enterprises are needed to preserve land, control erosion, and provide economic development in small rural communities found along the Mississippi River. Malting barley is one crop that may fit the needs for farmers in this area. Barley provides a cropping alternative to a traditional corn/soybean rotations and promotes soil health, is less erosive than corn and soybeans, and can meet a potential growing demand from craft brewers in the state (and region) for local raw ingredients.

    Demonstration plots for malting barley have been planted the last two years, but no plot replication or other reliable data has been collected. All of our farms are within 25 miles. This project would allow us to plant replicated small plots and larger field sixed plots to evaluate variety data. We will lease small plot equipment from a local private research company and use our own equipment for the larger field sized (one acre or more) plots. Replicated small plot data is very important to potential buyers of malting barley and field sized data is very important to other farmers. Our research project would study the following:

    • Determine the varieties of spring malting barley which are best suited to Western Wisconsin based on yield and quality.
    • Determine if winter malting barley varieties exist that can meet malting standards and are suited to Western Wisconsin climate conditions.
    • Compare low, medium, and high fertilizer rates in replicated small plots to determine the best rates for high and quality (concerns about protein levels getting too high for malting quality).
    • Data will be analyzed through UW-Extension and the USDA Cereal Crops Research Unit.
    • Farmers involved provide a wide diversity of conditions, including conventional production, organic production, valley climate conditions, bluff top climate conditions, heavy soils, and light (sandy) soils.
    • Quality malting data to use with craft brewers to develop potential markets.
    • Small plot data will be established using primarily conventional tillage, field plots will use both conventional, reduced, and no-till methods.
    • Help develop budgets together with UW-Extension.

    Leased equipment includes planting, spraying (when necessary), and harvesting equipment. The project includes two years of plot data to make it more reliable and potentially more valuable to end users. Plot data will be analyzed for malting quality by the USDA Cereal Crops Research Unit located in Madison, WI based on the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA) standards. Our UW-Extension County Agriculture Agent has a good working relationship with the USDA Unit.


    1. Early Spring 2013 -- Plant small and field plots at each location

    2. May – July (harvest) Monitor plots and keep accurate records of temperature and rainfall.

    3. June -- Field days at two locations

    4. July -- Harvest spring plots

    5. August -- Clean seed and submit samples for Quality and DON (toxic byproduct of fusarium head blight) testing

    6. September -- Prepare for winter plot

    7. October -- Plant winter plot

    8. November -- Write up plot data from spring plots

    9. December -- Have fact sheets prepared and posted on the Buffalo County Extension webpage

    10. Repeat steps for year two

    11. December -- 2014 write up final results in fact sheet form after receiving data from the USDA lab. This fact sheet will analyze data from both years.


    A 2006 SARE Project titled, “Meeting the Needs of the Michigan Craft Brewing Industry: The Potential of Barley and Hops as Alternative Crops”, project leader Wendell Banks was reviewed. Like ours, one of the main concerns was can quality malting barley be grown with the climatic conditions in the upper Midwest. The project indicated that in that year quality malting barley was achieved. The project report did not indicate what quality standards were used or what the actual results were. Malting barley quality is also very dependent on weather. Our project would look at two years of data in Western Wisconsin. Quality will be based on AMBA standards for the brewing industry.

    Research data from Oregon State University, the University of Vermont, and the University of Minnesota were reviewed. They have good variety production data from each of their locations and this information will be used to select the varieties to be used in our project. Quality data has not been determined except for Oregon State, whose climate is vastly different from Western Wisconsin. Minnesota data is mainly from the dryer regions of the state.


    Field days will be held in cooperation with University of Wisconsin-Cooperative Extension Service. Plot information will be posted in the fields for viewing at the field days. Field days will be focused on production data and quality data as it becomes available. At least two field days will be held each year, rotating among our farms.

    Field days the second year will include production information, first year testing data, and economic data from the first year plots.

    Production facts sheets and budgets will be developed in cooperation with UW-Cooperative Extension. Fact sheets will be no more than one page in length and cover topics on production, rotation benefits, quality factors, and economics. Fact sheets will be available upon request and posted on the UW-Cooperative Extension County website. Facebook will also be used to advertise field days and disseminate fact sheets.


    The following will be measured each year:

    1. Production measurements – cooperation between farmers and UW-Cooperative Extension
    o Stand counts of each plot

    o Weed pressure in plots

    o Standability of varieties

    o Date of maturity

    o Variety yield

    o DON levels in cleaned harvest grain

    2. Samples will be collected from plots and sent to the USDA Cereal Crops Research Unit for malting quality analysis.

    3. NRCS will calculate soil loss at each site and compare with corn/soybean rotations.

    4. A one year economic review will be developed comparing economics of malting barley to other crops.

    5. A final summary economic review will be developed include crop production economic spreadsheets.

    6. A survey of 3 – 5 Wisconsin craft brewers will be conducted to determine if local Western Wisconsin malting barley will meet their standards.

    Photos will be used to document production information when appropriate.

    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.