USDA barley grant focuses on creating cold-tolerant breeds

Oregon State University will monitor nearly $850,000 to research cold-tolerant barleys under a new $25 million nationwide USDA National Institute of Food and Technology five-year grant.

The national grant specifically targets development of new cold-tolerant barleys and wheats, as well as background research, to produce crops tolerant to climate change.

Although most associate climate change with increased temperatures, cold-tolerant varieties must also be developed, because when temperatures heat up on some areas, they can fall very low in others, says Pat Hayes, head of OSU’s barley breeding program. He will oversee the $849,629 barley research component of the grant.

Key Points

Oregon State University is part of a new cold-tolerant barley research program.

New varieties could help boost market interest in barley.

Current barleys considered cold-tolerant are not “breakthrough” varieties.

While the announcement of the grant was made in February, actual dollars did not begin to flow into the program until recently, leading to an OSU press release on what it calls a “new initiative.”

“This grant is significant in the sense that it brings barley and wheat researchers together for the first time on a national project,” says Hayes. “This will add significant resources into the barley effort.”

While the research Hayes leads will be national in scope — development for varieties in the Midwest will be targeted as well as new cultivars for the Pacific Northwest — he hopes to have “some real breakthroughs” that will benefit growers in the region.

Barley’s cold tolerance

Development of cold-tolerant barleys could also expand the market for U.S. producers in this nation and abroad, adds Hayes. Discovering new cold-tolerant types is vital, since many barley varieties do not do well in extreme cold.

Freeze chamber tests at OSU show that many barleys experience a 50% failure rate when temperatures hit about 10 degrees F, he explains. A 50% crop mortality renders a planting economically destroyed to most farmers.

While OSU has not been waiting around for the grant to begin working on cold-tolerant varieties, newer releases in this category have been “anything but breakthroughs,” he reports. A just-released tolerant variety, Verdant, and another named Maja released two years ago, “tested well under cold conditions in Oregon and Washington, but neither are the big step forward in cold tolerance as we expect to come out of future studies under the new grant money,” says Hayes.

Expanding the barley industry and its marketing potential is a high priority with Hayes. “If we can make barley more cold-tolerant, we can expand the range of where we can plant the crop, he says. Improved yields from future variety releases, as well as new traits more attractive to international buyers, could boost marketing potential for the crop, he believes.

Emphasis on cereals

“Cereals are a very important source of food, feed and, for barley, beverages,” he says. “They’re a critical piece of the farm economy.”

He lauds the program not only for the new crop research it will generate, but also for a focus on how information is gathered and used. Results of the research will be incorporated into a national database, which scientists from across the country will then be able to access to develop better research tools.


Pat HayeS

This article published in the July, 2011 edition of WESTERN FARMER-STOCKMAN.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.