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A Comparison of North American Two-Row and Six-Row Malting Barley


Barley Breeding Programs and Their Innovations
Breeding programs in Canada and the United States have been developing adapted barley cultivars since the early to middle part of this century (3). All modern midwestern six-row malting barley cultivars can trace their ancestry to barley from northern China (Manchurian types). Manchurian-type barleys gained favor in the northern Great Plains because they suited the regional growing conditions. Two-row malting barleys grown in the West were developed from materials of European origin, where temperatures are somewhat similar to those in the western United States.

The malting and brewing industries take an active role in the development of new malting cultivars in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The industry offers financial support of breeding programs and research as well as pilot- and plant-scale testing of promising new lines. The industry or their representatives generally make recommendations as to which new cultivars are of acceptable quality for malting and brewing. Several large brewing companies have their own barley breeding programs, but for the most part barley cultivar development takes place at federal- or state-supported institutions. Past goals have focused on domestic markets, but some interest has recently been focused on the development of "export-type" malting barleys and the incorporation of "European" malt quality. Breeding is an ongoing process which requires 8-12 years from the first "cross" to the time of "release."

Selected cultivars tend to dominate a given region for a few years. After this time they are usually replaced by cultivars with improved quality, higher grain yield, or better resistance to the latest plant disease or pest. Brewers specifications may also change over time.

The following summaries present current six- and two-row malting barley cultivars in alphabetical order, not in order of recency or volume produced.

Six-Row Cultivars
Azure, released by North Dakota State University in 1982, is the only blue aleurone cultivar recommended for malting in the United States. Many brewers no longer use blue aleurone barleys, and only limited amounts are still produced in North Dakota.

Bonanza, a blue aleurone barley, was released by Agriculture Canada in 1970. It was also produced at one time in the upper Midwestern United States as well as in Canada. Limited acreage remains in the Canadian prairie provinces.

Esmeralda, released in 1992 by a national barley improvement program in Mexico, is currently the most common malting cultivar in Mexico. Though Esmeralda's malt quality is somewhat lower than previous Mexican cultivars, it is tolerant of the disease stripe rust, which destroyed Mexican barley production in the 1980s.

Excel was released by the University of Minnesota in 1990. It has a very high yield potential, but has not gained favor with growers because its kernel plumpness often suffers under environmental stress.

Foster, released by North Dakota State University in 1995, is the most recent barley recommended for malting and brewing in the United States. Foster's genetic make-up may reduce grain protein levels 1.5% below those of the popular Robust. Foster was named for a former barley breeder at North Dakota State University.

Morex, named for its high extract levels ("more-extract"), was released by the University of Minnesota in 1978. Although Morex's agronomic quality is somewhat below that of other six-row cultivars, it remains the industry standard in terms of malt quality. Small amounts of Morex are still produced in the Midwestern states and in Idaho.

Robust, released by the University of Minnesota in 1983, is currently the most widely produced six-row malting cultivar. Robust yields better and has greater straw strength and plumper kernels but lower levels of a-amylase than Morex, from which it was derived.

Stander is a high-yielding cultivar released by the University of Minnesota in 1993 and recommended for malting in 1995. The name Stander is derived from its improved straw-strength (it "stands"). Higher levels of wort-soluble nitrogen and a-amylase are characteristic of this breed. It is the second most widely produced six-row malting cultivar in the Midwest.

Two-Row Cultivars
B-1202 was developed by the barley breeding program of Busch Agricultural Resources, Inc. It is largely produced in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

Crest was released by Washington State University in 1992. It is primarily grown for export, and small amounts have been produced in Washington.

Crystal was jointly released by the USDA-ARS and the Idaho Experiment Station in 1989. It is very similar in malt quality to Klages and has shown some resistance to bacterial seed blight, which can be a problem in some irrigated areas. It is primarily produced in Idaho.

Galena (not to be confused with the hop of the same name!) was developed by the barley breeding program of the Coors Brewing Company and was made available to growers in 1991. It was originally intended to replace the German Triumph but has also replaced some acreage of Moravian III. Idaho and Wyoming produce significant amounts of Galena.

Harrington is the most widely produced two-row malting barley cultivar in North America. It was released by the University of Saskatchewan in 1981 and is characterized by higher levels of enzymatic activity than the previous two-row standard, Klages. Harrington often has poor hull adherence.

Klages was the industry two-row standard before the predominance of Harrington. Very small amounts of Klages continue to be produced, but generally under contract. It was released in 1972 by the USDA-ARS and the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station.

Manley received registration as a commercial cultivar in Canada in 1990. It is considered to have better agronomic performance, disease resistance, and hull adherence than Harrington and may serve as its eventual replacement. Significant amounts of Manley are produced in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Moravian III was released by the barley breeding program of the Coors Brewing Company and has been the predominant barley used by the company in recent years. Moravian III was derived from a cross of Moravian and other European cultivars. The original Moravian was brought to the United States from Czechoslovakia in 1949. Most acreage of Moravian III is in Colorado and Wyoming.

Moravian 14, developed by the barley breeding program of the Coors Brewing Company, was first made available to growers in 1995. It matures earlier than Moravian III, and is thus better suited to some production areas of Colorado.

Oxbow is a new variety developed in Canada that combines Harrington and Manley characteristics.

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Factors Influencing the Price of Malt (13)

One of the major factors influencing malt price is the price paid for malting barley. This is largely determined by supply and demand and can vary from year to year. Supply is influenced by production, existing barley stocks, and imports, while demand is a function of usage patterns (malt/feed/seed), export, and carryover barley stocks. The cost of transportation from production regions to the malthouse will also significantly affect the malt price, as will the quantity purchased. Many brewers contract with a maltster for as many as 12 months, which can serve to insulate the brewer from malt price increases in the short term and ensure an adequate supply of desired malting barley cultivars.

In the midwestern United States, the majority of barley acreage is seeded to six-row malting cultivars, and barley production often exceeds the demand for malt. Barley is purchased on the cash market, and maltsters and brewers are typically able to select the best quality, for which they pay a premium relative to the feed barley price. When the supply of acceptable malting barley is significantly reduced because of such factors as the environment or disease, changes in price can be anticipated. Fusarium head blight, a fungal disease, has adversely affected barley production in the upper midwestern United States since 1993. When it struck, six-row malting barley prices* rose from $2.18/bu (September 1993) to $4.00/bu (January 1996); prices averaged $2.97/bu during this time. Malt prices also eventually rose as a result.

In the western United States, much of the malting barley acreage is grown under contract. Farmers generally command higher prices than those found on the cash grain market as an incentive to grow malting barley over the better-yielding feed barley, but maltsters usually find the higher price an acceptable trade-off for a secure supply of high-quality barley.

Prices for two-row malting barley are not published, other than by state agencies. As an example, Montana two-row barley prices have averaged $2.70/bu in the past three years (September 1993 through January 1996). In typical years, when the supply of quality midwestern six-row barley is in abundance, the price for two-row barley and malt has generally been much higher than corresponding six-row prices.

There is little interplay between western and midwestern markets. Demand among the major brewers for six- or two-row malt fluctuates little.

*Data provided as reported by the Minneapolis grain exchange, the only "cash" grain market for malting barley.

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