Breeding better barley

The Field Crop Development Centre continues to breed new barley varieties that benefit Alberta farmers and ranchers

The Field Crop Development Centre continues to breed new barley varieties that benefit Alberta farmers and ranchers.

Alberta is the largest barley producer in Canada. Barley makes up nearly two-thirds of the breeding efforts at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s Field Crop Development Centre (FCDC) in Lacombe.

“Feed and forage are the core of our work,” explains Flavio Capettini, head of research at the FCDC.

“Varieties are the foundation of agriculture. Without improved varieties, there is no genetic progress to contribute to increasing productivity and food security. Farmers and breeders have been continuously breeding barley for more than 10,000 years. Breeding is even more important now that we have a steadily increasing world population, climatic pressures and international market competition.”

This year has been productive for the centre. In March, four barley varieties were approved for registration. From those, two new barley varieties are currently in the licensing process for commercialization.

The FCDC is releasing two-row barley varieties with yields that exceed market-dominant varieties and have significantly improved lodging resistance in most of them.

Six-row barley varieties that have improved Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) are also being released.

“This can mean lower input costs, more stable yield and less nitrogen lost to the environment,” says Yadeta Kabeta, FCDC research scientist.

The centre has changed its forage barley breeding strategy to bring varieties that better meet the needs of the forage industry to market.

“This program is focusing on yield, quality and smooth awns, especially in two-row barley,” says Capettini. “The majority of available varieties have rough awns, which can irritate cattle’s mouths. Smooth or hooded awns can avoid that negative effect.”

“Also,” Capettini adds, “The malting varieties are gaining market share and are recognized as having favourable characteristics preferred by the growing craft malting and brewing industry.”

The team at the centre continues to investigate, create and research a way to breed different types of Alberta grown malting barley to give beer different flavours.

And, it’s not just breweries that rely on these malting barley varieties.

“Farmers who grow malting barley varieties every year aim to make the quality needed for malting,” explains Capettini. “But, if the crop does not fit those characteristics they are used for feed. Around 50 per cent of the barley acres in Alberta are planted with malting varieties although only 20 to 30 per cent of the crops that fit the specifications will be used as malt.”

The FCDC has been developing enhanced cereal varieties for feed, malt, food, and bio-industrial uses since 1973. Along with barley, researchers work with triticale.

-Alberta Agri-news

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