The emergence of Osage Bio Energy’s new barley-based ethanol plant in Hopewell, Va., has generated renewed interest in planting barley in the upper Southeastern region.

Barley researchers at Virginia Tech University have also increased research efforts aimed at developing and providing growers with improved barley varieties with acceptable agronomic traits to meet the needs of potentially new end-use markets.

There has been considerable interest in hull-less barley varieties in recent years, leading Virginia Tech researchers to begin the long process of developing new barley varieties with acceptable agronomic traits adaptable for use in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions.

Starch is the thing, when it comes to producing ethanol from barley. Though most hull-less varieties produce less yield, many produce more starch, giving them some advantage to the new Osage Bio Energy plant in Hopewell, which uses primarily barley for stock.

“Though yields may be lower, higher test weights for hull-less varieties may already make them competitive on a total starch to starch basis,” says Virginia Tech small grain breeder Carl Griffey.   

After corn, wheat and sorghum, barley is the fourth major grain crop grown in the United States. For a typical feed barley, the hull makes up 12 percent to 15 percent of the total grain weight and has a high fiber content. High fiber content can be a double-edged sword. It is not suitable for swine and poultry rations in animal feed, but highly sought after for other livestock feeding rations.