Two basic types of barley - feed and malting - are grown in Minnesota. The U of M breeding program focused on malting varieties for the last half century. Earlier, high protein feed varieties for livestock were developed. As rail and truck distribution improved, breweries in St. Louis, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and other Midwest centers dominated the U.S. market. Quality barley was made possible by the climate and soils of western Minnesota and the Dakotas, matched with highly desirable seed developed by U of M researchers. A 1992 economic study documented that about two-thirds of all beer produced in the U.S. contained barley developed by U of M Agricultural Experiment Station scientists.
The primary goals of the barley breeding program are to develop high yielding varieties that are disease resistant, and that demonstrate exceptionally high malting and brewing qualities. The American Malting Barley Association supports U of M research, and tests rail-car quantities of any upcoming release to ensure it will offer brewers an improved product. For example, the varieties 'Morex' and 'Robust' provided malt houses with a higher percent of malt extract per bushel, as well as reduced malting time. Over a ten-year period this amounted to $297 million more for farmers and the brewing industry, from a $9 million investment in research and extension work. Growers support those efforts through the Minnesota Barley Research and Promotion Council.
Agronomists, plant pathologists, and molecular geneticists are now breeding barley - and wheat - for resistance to fusarium head blight, or scab. Through the 1990s this fungal disease resulted in over 1 billion dollars of losses. In 1998 the University released 'MnBrite' - a variety with some resistance - and in 2000, 'Lacey' - a moderately resistant variety. Fully resistant varieties are the goal of a focused research effort enabled by special legislative funding.
Barley production in Minnesota is now at its lowest point since the 1880s, due to the 1990s emergence of fusarium headblight, or scab. Scientists are making progress over the disease.
Technology plays an increased role in the development of new crops, including barley. Genetic engineering allows scientists to more precisely improve plant characteristics.
U of M researchers harvest barley test plots in late July at the Northwest Research and Outreach Center, Crookston.
Much of the beer produced in major U.S. breweries is made from Minnesota barley varieties.
The flat and fertile Red River Valley of northwest Minnesota and eastern North Dakota is a major U.S. barley production area.
U of M Barley Varieties
|Manchuria 1918||Cree 1957|
|Minsturdi 1922||Manker 1974|
|Svansota 1926||Morex 1978|
|Velvet 1926||Robust 1983|
|Peatland 1926||Excel 1990|
|Glabron 1929||Stander 1993|
|Regal 1931||Royal 1994|
|Mars 1945||MNBrite 1998|
|Forrest 1957||Lacey 2000|
University of Minnesota malting barleys are "6-row" types, which yield the most grain per acre. Only one U of M variety, 'Svansota,' was a 2-row type like those grown in the drier, western production areas of Montana and Idaho.
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