With the new Osage Bio Energy plant planning to come on line within a year, Virginia growers have shown a renewed interest in barley, which will be the primary source of stock for the new 55 million gallon a year ethanol plant in Hopewell, Va.

At a recent field day at Virginia Tech’s Eastern Virginia Agricultural Research and Education Center, researchers demonstrated some new hulless barley varieties being tested, noting that some require some different cultural practices than wheat, even hulled barely varieties.

Susceptibility to net blotch will likely be a limiting factor to barley production in the upper Southeast. It can cut yield and test weight and cause blemishes on the seed. Virginia Tech researcher Pat O’Boyle is looking at genetic markers to screen for disease resistance.

Doyce and Eve are two hulless barley varieties that are highly sought after for ethanol production because, as the name implies, these cultivars eliminate the de-hulling process at the ethanol plant. Both are relatively new varieties and have produced consistently good test weights and acceptable disease resistance, but yields have remained lower than popular hulled varieties.

O’Boyle and other researchers in Carl Griffey’s breeding program are seeking to improve yields on future hulless varieties. “The ultimate goal is to get a variety that is comparable to the highest yielding hulled varieties,” O’Boyle says.

“We also need high starch, high protein and disease resistance.”

The first step to getting a pure breeding line is the 19,000 head-rows the Virginia Tech researchers screen each year — hoping to find a few varieties that will work.

In the past two years, Tech researchers have looked at over 500 potential barley varieties, with about half being hulless lines. Of the original group of hulless varieties, 32 are currently being tested in Virginia and neighboring states.

Once these new varieties are developed, how to grow them will be a significant part of field testing. Already the Virginia Tech research team has detected some special requirements of the hulless varieties.

On the positive side, last year barley required less nitrogen than wheat. At the Eastern Virginia Agricultural Research and Education Center, researchers applied 25 pounds of nitrogen pre-plant on both wheat and barley. They came back and added 25 pounds of nitrogen in December and again in February.

However, leaf analysis indicated adequate levels of nitrogen in the barley, but wheat required an additional 40 pounds of nitrogen in late March.

Virginia Tech Researcher Mark Vaughn says growers may need to be aware of early planting dates for these new hulless barley varieties. In the past, farmers have planted barley in late September and early October in central Virginia.

In statewide tests, Doyce hulless barley planted early has been very susceptible to freeze damage in Virginia and other states. In one test, early planted Doyce had a test weight of 48 pounds due to freeze damage. “Growers can’t afford to send 48 pound test weight barley to Osage for ethanol production,” Vaughn stresses.

The newest hulless barley variety available to barley growers in the upper Southeast is Eve. Eve typically matures 5-7 days earlier than Doyce, making it even more susceptible to freeze damage, if planted early.

Virginia 03H-61 will likely be the next hulless barley variety released from the Virginia Tech breeding program, which has previously released Doyce and Eve.

In statewide testing last year, Virginia 03H-61 averaged 88 bushels per acre — same as Doyce. Doyce had a test weight of 56.9, compared to 60.6 for the experimental line. Eve averaged 85 bushels with 58.6 test weight.

Among the hulless barley entries in the 2008 Virginia Tech trials, three released cultivars and 17 experimental lines were tested. Average yields of hulled lines over the six locations ranged from 71 to 110 bushels per acre, with test weights ranging from 42.3 to 46.8 pounds per bushel.

Typically, hulled barley varieties average 10 percent to 20 percent higher yields than hulless varieties. However, the high price of corn and subsequent need for higher energy alternative livestock feed makes the hulless varieties more valuable in some cases.

The use of hulless barley in ethanol production also makes these newer, higher yielding hulless barley varieties more desirable for growers.

The new variety, Eve, and the projected next hulless variety, now Virginia 03H-61, are slightly different from Doyce and growers need to be aware of harvesting differences, Vaughn says.

Doyce threshes hard and combine speeds must be slower. “One farmer told us he was able to run his combine at four miles per hour on Eve, but had to drop back to two miles per hour on Doyce,” Vaughn says.

Eve and Virginia 03H-61 thresh more easily and have longer seed than Doyce. If a grower threshes these two varieties at the same slower speed needed for Doyce, Eve and 03H-61 will look like they have been through a mill — it will be cracked up,” Vaughn warns.

Seeding rates for the new hulless varieties are also a little different from hulled varieties. Potential damage to the germ of hulless barley due to the lack of a hull for protection necessitates a higher seeding rate.

“Seeding rates for hulless barley in a conventional, tilled seedbed should be at least 40 seeds per square foot (23 seed per row foot in 7.5-inch rows) to approach optimum yields. Initial test results indicate that seeding at 45 to 50 seeds per square foot is appropriate for sites with high yield (more than 85 bushels per acre) potential. Increased seeding rates are advisable when planting later than optimum and/or with no-tillage planting.

Growers saving seed from a previous hulless barley crop should have a germination test performed on all seed lots,” says Wade Thomason, Virginia Tech small grains specialist.

Weed management for hulless barley is the same as for hulled varieties. However, Virginia Tech Weed Scientist Scott Haygood points out that Osprey, which is a good herbicide option for diclofop-resistant Italian ryegrass is not labeled for use on barley. “The best option is to keep barley planting away from areas with Italian ryegrass that is resistant to diclofop, sold under the trade name Hoelon,” Hagood adds.

Barley has not been a staple crop in the upper Southeast for a number of years. Though there are new varieties available for production of hulled and hulless barley, it likely will take growers a few seasons to learn which varieties are best suited to their land and how best to grow these new barley varieties.

e-mail: rroberson@farmpress.com