By Eric Richer, Sarah Noggle and Garth Ruff
Many growers have heard the discussions of growing winter barley in Ohio. Small-plot data is available from Ohio Agriculture Research and Development Stations, but not many field-scale data have been published.
While growing a newly reintroduced crop could be a consideration on your farm, it may not be for everyone. This article is not intended to endorse growing barley or review best management practices for growing winter barley. The intent here is to simply present the one-year, simple averages of several test fields in the upper northwest region of the state.
Throughout the 2018 growing season, we had the opportunity to work with eight growers across nine field-scale test sites for growing winter malting barley in northwest Ohio. Growers were from Defiance, Fulton, Hancock, Henry and Paulding counties. Each grower planted small fields of Puffin barley that averaged 23 acres in size (the range was 7 to 63 acres). These growers agreed to share yield and quality results while participating in simple field-scale research project with these objectives:
1. Determine the field-scale, simple averages for yield (grain and straw), harvest date and quality characteristics for barley grown in northwest Ohio.
2. Compare the yield, and plant and harvest dates, for the same variety soybean as a first-crop system, double-crop after barley system and double-crop after wheat system.
Barley yield results
Based on discussions with Ohio State University Extension state specialists and other regional agronomists, the growing conditions in 2018 were regarded as average or slightly above average for growing winter malting barley. The average dry grain yield for Puffin barley (adjusted to 13% moisture) across the nine northwest Ohio sites was 86.5 bushels per acre, with a range of 58 to 106 bushels per acre. The average delivered moisture was 13.4% (with a range of 12.9% to 14.7%). The average harvest date for barley on these sites was June 26 (with a range of June 25-29).
Additionally, at six of the nine sites, the cooperators baled the barley straw. A representative sample was weighed at each site, and the calculated average yield of straw was 1.01 ton per acre (the range was 0.64 ton to 1.36 tons per acre). As a management note, all cooperators felt strongly that in 2018, removal of the straw made for more effective double-crop soybean planting.
Samples of barley from each site were graded on protein, test weight, plumpness, germination, deoxynivalenal (vomitoxin or DON) and other quality metrics. Included in Table 1 are the means and quality metrics from the nine test sites.
Seven out of nine sites met malt quality. Of the two sites that did not produce malt-quality barley, one site had high DON, and another site had low plumpness and high thin results. All sites produced barley in the acceptable protein levels for malting.
Wheat yield comparison
Four cooperators (a subset of the original nine sites) in the study had a field of soft red winter wheat adjacent to or nearby the barley test site. The comparison of barley and wheat yields at these four sites is worth reviewing, as there was no statistical yield difference on a bushel-per-acre basis. Table 2 summarizes the yield and harvest date of these four sites. In 2018 at these sites, barley harvest occurred six days earlier on average than wheat harvest.
Additionally, three of these cooperators harvested wheat straw. At these three sites, the wheat straw yielded 1.28 ton per acre (with a range of 0.88 ton to 1.67 tons per acre). There was not a statistical difference in straw yield (LSD was 0.27 ton per acre at p-value < 0.05).
Soybean study design
Each barley grower was asked to plant a “paired-site” field of first-crop soybeans adjacent to his or her barley field with the goal to compare yields of double-crop soybeans after barley to the yield of first-crop soybeans (“check”). Eight growers using 11 different variety comparisons (sites) participated in these paired sites. Additionally, four growers using five variety comparisons (sites) had a wheat field adjacent to or nearby these paired sites and planted double-crop soybeans after wheat. One could consider the double-crop soybeans after wheat a more important check than first-crop soybeans.
Growers were asked to use the same soybean variety (Table 3) in each scenario to eliminate varietal differences. Soybeans maturities ranged from 2.5 to 3.5, and several trait platforms were used (non-GMO, Roundup, Xtend and Liberty) based on the grower’s preference.
Soybean yield results
All sites were harvested for yield, (see Table 4 below) over nearly two months’ time due to challenging weather. All yields reported were standardized to 13% moisture. First-crop soybeans yielded 59.3 bushels per acre with a 14% harvest moisture, and had an average harvest date of Oct. 17. The soybeans after barley yielded 36.6 bushels per acre with an 18.7% harvest moisture, and had an average harvest date of Nov. 17. Finally, the soybeans after wheat yielded 19.5 bushels per acre with a harvest moisture of 17.8%, and an average harvest date of Nov. 29.
Barley growing considerations
The decision to raise a new crop like barley should be based on the information gathered by each producer, having a contract and delivery point in place prior to planting, knowing how that particular crop fits into each operation, and the overall profitability of the enterprise. Barley may or may not be for your farm. It does allow a grower to add crop diversity to the rotation while using existing equipment (grain drill, sprayer and combine). Additionally, the water quality benefits of growing winter barley could be similar to that of winter wheat or cereal rye cover crops, but little research has been done to confirm this. However, growing a food-grade, identity-preserved (IP) crop requires specified quality standards and segregated storage as compared to commodity crops. Additionally, the planting and harvesting logistics for barley may not fit into all operations.
Taking it all in
Much is yet to be learned on barley production in northwest Ohio. Yield data from this growers’ cohort suggests northwest Ohio farmers can grow high-quality, high-yielding barley. Additionally, the double-crop soybean yield after barley can be significantly better than soybean yield after wheat. While this article contains just one year of data from eight growers, it will start to answer the question of whether winter barley is a viable option for farmers in northwest Ohio. For information on management, visit the OSU CFAES winter malting barley webpage and search for the Extension publication “Management of Ohio Winter Malting Barley.” For more information on this research study, download the eFields 2018 Report, pages178-179 at OSU's eFields webpage.
The authors wish to thank the cooperators who participated in this research.
Richer is a certified crop adviser for OSU Extension, Fulton County. Noggle and Ruff are OSU Extension educators.