Excelsior Gold and beyond in New York State

by Courtney Llewellyn

By now, if you know anything about barley, you likely know about Excelsior Gold, the first malting barley developed exclusively for New York growing conditions. What Mark Sorrells, professor at Cornell University, talked about during the recent Virtual Empire State Barley and Malt Summit was “The Malting Barley Variety and Seed Pipeline: Excelsior Gold and Beyond.”

“We convinced the New York legislature we needed funding to develop barley in the state, and that led to the Born, Bred and Brewed in New York program,” Sorrells explained. The program is going to be helpful, since there are now more than 490 brewers in New York – and it was home to the first craft brewery in America in 1612 in Manhattan.

The Born, Bred and Brewed program is still working through its “born” and “bred” phases. Winter grains were tested after being planted at farms in Ithaca, Seneca County and Monroe County in late September and early October 2020; spring grains were planted in April 2021 in Ithaca and Steuben County. Sorrells discussed the findings thusly:

  • The KWS Scala variety continues to be the most widely grown variety, with excellent winter survival and pre-harvest sprouting (PHS) resistance
  • The Endeavor variety is not recommended because of problems with poor winter survival, lodging, DON and PHS
  • The Flavia variety has good yield and test weight and seed is available
  • Lightning is a new variety from Oregon State University with good resistance to PHS and scald
  • Two newcomers, LCS Calypso and Violetta, while they have good attributes, are not recommended for production in New York

“Our winter malting barley doubled haploid lines have moved up a potential variety release to as early as 2024 or 2025, weather permitting,” Sorrells said.

The two-row spring malting barley breeding has been progressing rapidly. The first crosses were planted in spring 2016; by 2021, there was certified seed production and on-farm trials. That’s where Excelsior Gold comes in. The success of the variety, with yield equal or better than current varieties, earlier flowering than other varieties, excellent disease resistance, good PHS resistance and good malting quality comparable to other accepted malting barley varieties, proves the breeding program is working wonders.

Other spring varieties Sorrells commented on:

  • AAC Synergy and Newdale continue to yield well but are extremely susceptible to PHS
  • Quest and Explorer both show some fusarium head blight (FHB) resistance

CU198 is what’s next, with very good yield and test weight, moderate resistance to spot blotch and FHB, PHS resistance, a short seed dormancy period after harvest, earlier flowering time and very good craft malting quality. “We’ll see how this turns out this year,” Sorrells said.

Seed supply is an issue that will be tackled through the program too. At the time of the summit, the New York Seed Improvement Project (NYSIP) only has 500 bushels of Excelsior Gold in inventory, with 380 bushels already being allocated. However, the breeder seed increase of CU198 was 145, and NYSIP will increase it again. Lightning was planted in autumn 2021 and will be available for autumn 2022 delivery to those who want to try it.

“It can be hard to find some of these varieties in New York,” Sorrells said. Nevertheless, the work will continue.

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