Evaluating Malting Barley Production in New England Using a Winterkill Cover Crop Cocktail Combined With Flame Weeding and No Till Planting

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2015: $14,936.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Matthew Zarif
Carter & Stevens Farm

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: barley, clovers, oats
  • Vegetables: radishes (culinary)


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops

    Proposal summary:

    Demand for locally grown, sustainably harvested food has fueled a growing interest in malting barley production in Massachusetts, along with higher profit incentives for farmers. Since malting barley is subject to specific quality parameters, growers in the region face challenges in producing malting quality barley. Additional research is needed to evaluate best practices for sustainable malting barley production.

    The use of a winterkill cover crop cocktail, combined with no-till planting and flame weeding, is a promising method for organic spring barley production, based on its success with other crops and its potential application for various soil compositions throughout the region. We will examine nitrogen contribution of winterkill cover crops and the effects of seeding rates on malting barley quality.

    We will also evaluate the potential for harvesting barley straw as livestock bedding, making barley a value-added, dual-use crop. We are currently constructing a small farm-brewery and we plan to incorporate estate grown and locally sourced ingredients, including barley and hops. The proposed study would help to develop novel organic farming practices for growing malting barley on our farm and the results would benefit other farmers throughout the region who may be interested in growing barley for malting. Information gathered will be shared through the University of Massachusetts Extensions website and a farm field day outreach event, as well as being submitted to media outlets and refereed publications.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Basic objectives

    The study will examine spring malting barley production using a cover crop cocktail of forage radish, oats, and crimson clover with flame weed control and no-till planting. Various seeding rates and nitrogen levels will be tested using multiple varieties of barley. Barley samples will be sent for laboratory analysis of standardized parameters to determine grain quality for malting. We will include two larger plots to produce a sufficient quantity of barley for brewing and to examine the ability to utilize barley straw as livestock bedding.

    Methods and measurements

    We will examine spring malting barley production using a winterkill cover crop cocktail of crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum), oats (Avena Sativa), and forage radish (R. sativus L. var. oleiformis Pers.) with flame weed control and no-till planting. Three levels of seeding rates (300/350/400 seeds m−2), and three nitrogen levels (0, 30, and 50 lbs/acre) will be tested using two varieties of spring barley (two-row and six-row) in a factorial design with 4 replications. This will result in 72 plots each 5’ x 25’. (See attached Plot Plan below). The effects of varying seeding rates and nitrogen levels on malt barley quality will be quantified via laboratory analysis. In order to analyze the effects of cover crop N contribution and crop N requirements, Urea will be used as an additional N source for randomized plots for research purposes.

    In addition to the randomized plots, we will plant two larger plots in order to produce enough grain for brewing and for harvesting straw for use as livestock bedding in our deep bedded pack system. With this recently implemented bedding system, we have observed improved herd health, increased milk production, and lower somatic cell counts, as well as high quality compost as a byproduct. However, our current use of hay for bedding reduces acreage available for the production of other crops. Utilizing post grain harvest straw as bedding would make barley a value-added, dual-use crop. Two, 1-acre plots will be planted with six-row and two-row barley. These plots will have single seeding rates of 400 seeds m−2 and utilize dairy cow manure as a nitrogen source. After harvesting via combine, barley straw will be mowed, raked, and baled to be used for the deep bedded pack. We will evaluate yields and observe barley straw suitability for use as bedding material. The barley harvested from these plots will be used for malting if it is of sufficient quality, otherwise it will be used for baking, as animal feed, or for reseeding.

    Five soil samples will be collected in May 2015 and sent to UMass for standard soil analysis to determine baseline nutrient levels and soil pH. The field will be harrowed and compost applied. Fall cover crops will be planted via broadcasting during the third week of August, 2015 at the following rates: crimson clover, 4lbs/acre, oats, 25lbs/acre, and forage radish, 4lbs/acre. Planting will be followed by a corrugated roller to encourage seed- soil contact.

    Spring barley will be planted in 2016 when minimum soil temperatures reach 40 deg. F, using a no-till planter in strips that measure 5’ for 25’ passes per plot. As an additional measure of spring weed control, we will conduct flame weeding immediately prior to planting, using a 400,000 BTU Back Pack Vapor Torch. Additional soil samples will be taken prior to planting and during the growing phase to analyze the effects of cover crops on nutrient levels over time. Urea will be applied to test plots by hand at prescribed rates.

    Upon reaching maturity for harvest, samples will be collected from test plots by hand from a 3.75 sq. ft sample area of central rows. These samples will be hand threshed and barley samples will be sent to the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge School of Agriculture for laboratory analysis of standardized parameters to determine grain quality for malting. Specifically, tests will be conducted for nitrogen content, falling number, test weight, germination rate, protein content, and moisture content.

    The two, one acre plots will be harvested by combine. If harvested barley is of sufficient quality, it will be utilized for malting and brewing. Otherwise, it will be processed for baking or used for animal feed and reseeding. Barley straw will be mowed, raked, and baled to be used for the deep bedded pack. We will examine yields to determine whether straw harvest is economically viable.

    The results of the study will be made available to the public via the University of Massachusetts Agriculture extension outreach reporting website, including a video documentary. The final report will be submitted to relevant online and printed publications. We will also draft a press release and seek media coverage for this project, which will serve to disseminate information to other New England farmers and brewers interested in sustainable barley production, as well as expand consumer awareness of beer produced with locally grown ingredients.

    A field day will be held on our farm for up to 50 participants, including farmers, researchers, and members of the craft brewing community. We plan to collaborate with the University of Massachusetts for this event, and to invite other researchers, farmers, and brewers to give presentations and demonstrations. We will include farm-grown food refreshments and offer samples of beer brewed with locally grown and harvested barley and hops.

    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.