- Agronomic: barley
- Production Systems: general crop production
The demand for “craft malt” has increased with the growth of craft beer and craft brewers are seeking barley malts with different quality attributes from those currently available in North America; therefore, resources are required to help close the supply gap and increase profitability and improve sustainability of Mid-Atlantic small grains for malting. Deer Creek Malthouse is requesting SARE funding to develop regionally specific agronomic practices for growing grain so farmers will have better success in meeting the standards for this market. We intend to evaluate “strip trial” scale plots of malting barley varieties that have performed well in previous small scale agronomic and micro-malting trials on our farm. In addition, we plan to conduct a malting barley crop management trial evaluating the following variables: Previous crop, tillage, and nitrogen rate.
We believe that implementation of appropriate crop management best practices such as regionally adapted varieties, adequate nitrogen rate and timing, application of disease and moisture controls as well as proper planting dates and seed rates, will improve the likelihood that barley meets malt and beer quality standards. Additional benefits of this project include increased craft beer sales, new job creation, premiums for small grains farmers, and new market opportunities for winter cover crops that reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff. Craft malt growth and innovation in the Mid-Atlantic offers further benefits to the local environment by reducing food miles and carbon emissions through more sustainable malting supply chain operations.
Project objectives from proposal:
In order to improve malting barley production, the main questions Deer Creek seeks to answer are: 1) What existing commercial varieties grow best in the Mid-Atlantic, and 2) what are the optimum crop management practices to achieve the greatest profitability for malting barley farmers while maintaining grain quality. Our hypothesis is that regional malting barley quality is variety dependent and specialized crop management practices are required to improve farming profitability and meet craft beer quality specifications.
To test this hypothesis, we intend to evaluate “strip trial” scale plots of malting barley varieties that have performed well in previous small scale agronomic and micro-malting trials on our farm. In addition, we plan to conduct a malting barley crop management trial evaluating the following variables: Previous crop, tillage, and nitrogen rate. These experiments will be conducted in collaboration with Penn State University under the technical advisory of Greg Roth, PhD, Professor of Agronomy.
To address the question “what existing commercial varieties grow best in the Mid-Atlantic?” Deer Creek Malthouse planted between 1.5 and 2 acres each of six malting barley varieties that have performed well in small trial plots but have not been malted on a commercial scale in the region and evaluated for quality and flavor. The barley was planted on October 7th and 8th, 2015, to be available for the proposed project, and the cost of seed and planting is not included in the project budget. Typical crop management practices will be used in 2016, including topdressing with nitrogen in late winter, applying herbicide in early spring, and applying a fungicide at boot/early heading stage. Field data, including winter survival, tillering, disease ratings, plant height, and heading date will be collected at five randomly selected spots in each field, using a one square foot “scouting square”. The plots will be harvest in June 2016 by a neighboring farmer that has a combine set up for small grain harvest. Grain from the trials will be cleaned and sized and evaluated for standard agronomic factors such as yield, test weight, protein, germination %, DON, and lodging.
The different varieties will then be malted at Deer Creek malthouse and analyzed for malting characteristics such as free amino nitrogen (FAN), α-amylase and β-glucan. The top performing varieties/malts will be used to brew a beer with the same recipe for further evaluation of quality and flavor. Trial results will be measured using a variety of analytical (wet chemistry) and practical (malting/brewing) tools to help determine the best regionally adapted varieties for farmers to grow in the Mid-Atlantic.
To evaluate PHS under more controlled conditions, 200 heads of each variety will be harvested at physiological maturity (around 20% moisture) and brought inside to reduce exposure to moisture in the field. These heads will be broken into three groups of 50 heads for each variety. One group will receive no moisture to represesnt ideal harvest conditions, one will be misted for an 8 hour period to represent a “slight” moisture condition, the third will be misted for two different 8 hour periods two days apart to represent a “moderate” condition, and the last will be misted for three eight hour periods on days 1, 3 and 5 to represent a severe condition. All samples will then be fully dried, stored for one month, and then tested for germination % and embryo viability via Tetrazolium staining. Varieties with resistance to PHS (i.e. better germination and embryo viability) are favorable in the Mid-Atlantic growing region.
To address the question “what are the optimum crop management practices to achieve the greatest profitability for malting barley farmers while maintaining grain quality?” a managment trial plot was planted on October 8th, 2015 using a single 2-row malting barley variety. The management trial will include 2 replications each of 16 different treatment combinations (2 previous crops x 2 tillages x 4 nitrogen rates). Each rep is 6 feet wide by 30 feet long. The treatment variables are: previous crop (sweet corn, soybeans), tillage (no-till, conventional till), and nitrogen rate (50 lb/ac, 75 lb/ac, 100 lb/ac, 100 lb/a plus a growth regulator.
All of the plots will receive herbicide in early spring and fungicide at heading. Nitrogen will be topdressed at various rates in late winter. Field data will be recorded from 1 square foot blocks at 3 random locations in each plot (6 data sets per treatment) and shall include: Winter survival, tillering, disease ratings, plant height, and heading date. At crop maturity, all grain from each square foot block will be hand harvested for collecting data on yield and grain quality (test weight, protein, germination %, DON, kernel size, and visual appearance. Larger grain samples will be collected when the crop is harvested for micro malt analysis.
Nitrogen topdress: late February, one day (Farm Manager)
Herbicide application: mid-March, one day (Farm Manager)
Early field data collection: April, two days (Farm Manager and Technician)
Fungicide application: May, one day (Farm Manager)
Late field data collection: early June, two days (Farm Manager and Technician)
Hand harvest samples: mid-June, three days (Farm Manager and Technician)
Harvest: late June, two days (Farm Manager and Contract Harvester)
PHS test: late June through July, 4 days aggregate (Technician)
Field Day: mid-May, 1 day with several days prep (Project Manager, Farm Manager, Technician)
Technical Meeting: late October, 1 day with 1 day prep (Project Manager, Farm Manager, Technician)
Strip Trial Malting: 3-6 batches, 40hrs each (Project Manager and Technician)
Pilot Brewing: 3-6 batches, 1 day each (Project Manager and Technician)
White Paper Publication: December (Project Manager)
Outreach and education have been an important part of Deer Creek’s malting barley crop management research and variety improvement efforts for the past three years at public workshops, seminars, and field days. The farm will continue to leverage these forums to share lessons learned and educate other regional farmers. Most notable is a field day planned for May 2016 in conjunction with Philly Beer Week at Deer Creek in Glen Mills, PA. This event will be open to the general public and provide an opportunity for farmers, maltsters, agronomists, and brewers to walk the trial plots and learn about the malting operation and research efforts. In addition, we intend to publish a white paper with management best practices for growing malting barley in the Mid-Atlantic at the conclusion of this project.
Results from some variety trials will be published in small grains reports in collaboration with Penn State University. Results will also be shared at a technical meeting with Penn State Extension staff. If applicable, malting and brewing results, especially as they pertain to flavor origins, will be presented at the Craft Brewers Conference or published through the Craft Maltster’s Guild. All other project results will be made available upon request.