Research sizes up hurdles for barley
Updated: Friday, January 11, 2013 12:30 PM
Breeder hustles to develop hulless, tolerant grains
By MATTHEW WEAVER
A researcher hopes to increase the number of barley acres by developing herbicide-tolerant and hulless varieties.
"It is my goal to do whatever it takes to increase the barley acreage in Washington," Washington State University barley breeder Kevin Murphy said, noting acreage has recently been on the rise. "This is a trend we're trying to continue."
In 2010, the state's barley acreage was 81,000 acres, but in 2011 hit 115,000 acres and reached 175,000 acres in 2012.
Murphy has ramped up efforts to develop a herbicide-tolerant barley variety. The goal is to develop a barley capable of being planted after a Clearfield winter wheat. Clearfield varieties are grown on most wheat acres in the state, Murphy said. Grass weed herbicides used on winter wheat carry barley plant-back restrictions.
"In order to get barley back into rotation, this will be one of the major hurdles we have to overcome," he said.
"We need it," echoed Steve Claassen, commissioner for the Washington Grain Commission. "ASAP would be nice. That's the route we're going to have to go to give barley a chance."
After initial success with a herbicide-tolerant line in 2012, Murphy said the variety will be included in 2013 variety trials throughout the state.
Australian wheat breeders own intellectual property rights on the herbicide-tolerant gene, but WSU is working toward an agreement to use it.
Murphy is also working on a hulless barley.
Hulless lines have higher test weights and 1 to 2 percent higher protein than other barley, Murphy said.
Murphy said a hulless barley eliminates the pearling part of the production process. Pearling barley removes the seed coat and reduces a lot of the nutritional value of the grain. A hulless variety would qualify as a whole grain.
"We're hoping to get hulless varieties for all different market classes -- for feed, not just for food," Murphy said.
Claassen would like to see Washington barley return to the 500,000-acre level.
"The bottom line is money," he said. "If we can keep prices up there reasonably and keep the insurance guarantee up there for barley, I think that's going to be a big player."
Murphy plans to fast-track the herbicide-tolerant and hulless varieties, in hopes of making them available to farmers by 2015.
Murphy will enter three feed barley varieties into pre-release this year, two slated for high rainfall zones and one for low rainfall zones. He plans to submit the best of the high-rainfall varieties and the low-rainfall variety for consideration for release in 2013. Farmers would likely be able to purchase the varieties in 2015, or possibly sooner.
"The idea is to get them out as quickly as possible," Murphy said.