Malting Organic Oats, Heritage Wheats, and Heritage Barley

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2019: $26,978.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2019
Grant Recipient: Doubting Thomas Farms
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Noreen Thomas
Doubting Thomas Farms


  • Agronomic: barley, oats, wheat


  • Crop Production: Heritage
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture


    The craft brewing industry has an immense impact on state and local economies - generating $2 billion in Minnesota and $200 million in North Dakota in 2016 alone (Brewer's Association). Craft beer enthusiasts are constantly seeking novel ingredients to expand the variety of offerings, and create a unique experience around their brew. According to the University of Minnesota (UMN) economic development team, there are over 500 active breweries in Minnesota alone. 

    This quest for a unique flavor can be met with locally-sourced ingredients; thus, providing expanded market options for farmers to grow grain for the production. This project would initiate research of the potential of organic heritage barley, oats, and wheat grown in the Red River Valley for malt, a key ingredient in beer. We would work in collaboration with Vertical Malt for expertise on the science of malting grain.  A quote used with permission "As farmers, maltsters and brewers further develop local beer foodsheds, more ingredients are being added. With a growing interest in reviving the local beer supply chain, from grain to finished product, the time is ripe for alternative grain crops to enter the malting market. " Tamara Scully writer for Beverage Master Craft Spirits and Brew Magazine.

    The varieties of barley we tested were Tinka barley (a German variety), Organic Conlon barley, Paul hulless oats, Boiles wheat, Red Fife, and a winter wheat variety (old and not sure of variety). The Tinka variety did not do well and was difficult to grow. It lodged early in production and was harder to thresh. We are not sure if that was because of weather, or if it was the variety, or a combination of the two factors. Germination of the grain is very important as it has to be 95% or more germination for malting since you are sprouting the grain during malting. If it rains during harvest, the grain can sprout in the field causing it to be poor for malting. The grain cannot be "bin run" and has to be cleaned ahead of time (which is another process). Protein for barley should not be more then 12%. The wheat had higher protein (14% for Boiles and winter wheat at 12%) and oats (15 % protein) but seemed to work well in malting. (We are not sure why this worked well.) Winter wheat in the lab samples worked well for malting because of low protein compared to hard red spring wheat. We found this year it was hard to achieve 65% plumpness (85% does really well) and consistent uniform seed size because of the weather and excess rain. The best requirement is to have a lab test all grains for malting quality, especially barley. Batch sizes at 4000 pounds are very expensive to make the malt and sometimes without market to sell and it is good to know if it is worth it for malting. Lab testing for malting quality costs about $35.00 per sample. Field to field differs drastically in malt quality. The oats and wheat for malting have very little established standards and we were using barley standards that do not match oats and wheat. Much more work needs to be done. I have asked several PhD’s in the industry and there simply are no standards for malting oats or the wheat. There are also some cautions as the oats can go into a sticky mush and fall through the screens in malting. The water uptake is also different then barley because the hulless oats do not have a hull so water is absorbed differently. We are working through this by doing small lab samples. But we found from lab tests that sometimes there is not a correlation to full blown malting or it may even be different in how it reacts in a batch and the range in quality is wide.

    The work with breweries is emerging. They are the most intense of relationships. I have worked in local foods for 18 years and found this work to be much more relationship bound and more questions about quality of product. We are also applying for more funding as we have involved more farmers and want collectively to work closer with breweries for market We were also asked to be part of the Artisan Grain Collaborative which is invitation only so we are now hoping to work better and closer with breweries. Also we found an individual that will help us work on future work dealing with fruit, and other adjuncts. He is retiring from being a brewmaster. The fruits and adjuncts are a good pairing as it is hard for many farmers to find market share once the fruits are ripe and are in larger quantities more then a farmers market can support.   


    Project objectives:

    Identify varieties of organic heritage oats, organic heritage wheat and organic heritage barley that will malt with good flavor, and one the breweries like. The Conlon barley, Paul hulless oats and Red Fife wheat seem to work well. Some breweries are very interested but are slow to switch over to something without a proven track record or have planned the schedule in advance, so further work alongside the breweries is needed. 

    Identify the quality aspects of the grains that worked well (document protein, moisture, grain size). The quality of the grains in 2019 was not so good. Moisture for grains should not be above 12 per cent, and the protein for malting (barley) must be between 11 and 13.5 percent. The grain size can vary but it is best to have plumper grains. Vomitoxin, also known as deoxynivalenol (DON), is a type B trichothecene, an epoxy-sesquiterpenoid has to be less then 1 ppm. The grains also had a very tough year: Tinka, a German variety, failed and DON was in the 1.9 ppm range. The varieties that worked well were organic Conlon barley, Paul hulless oats, and Red Fife wheat. Tinka barley was difficult to grow and lodged as well, and the weather was raining nonstop at harvest time and the DON popped up to near 3.0 ppm (less then 1 ppm acceptable).


    Share results with other farmers and host field day.

    Re-purpose heritage varieties and keep from extinction.

    Expand market opportunities and diversify crop rotations of farm.

    Create grain-to-glass story for marketing. It was a big success and we have not seen this done before. The facebook and social media created a buzz. 

    Identify market trends (i.e. light wheat beer in winter? new emerging flavors?) We found the emerging flavors such as heavier and darker beers do better in winter (i.e. stouts, peanut butter beer, etc). Beer consumption other then the holidays is less then summer months. Light beers are favored for summer. A great water source for making beer (and malting) is critical. The cities across Minnesota have a large range of quality of water.

    Build a steady income stream for farmers locally to build as a community.

    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.