Risks and management discussed at Malting Barley Roundtable
by Elizabeth A. Tomlin
In response to the steady emergence of New York State craft beer breweries — and with New York State ‘Farm Brewery’ legislation encouraging rapid growth of the craft brewing industry — an overwhelming demand has arisen for malting barley produced in the state.
Key information concerning the management and risks of this challenging crop was presented at the CNY CCE Malting Barley Roundtable, where guest speaker Plant Pathologist Dr. Gary Bergstrom, Hops Specialist Steve Miller and CNY Field Crop Specialist Kevin Ganoe led the discussion.
“Diseases have caused major problems with barley in the past century,” Bergstrom reported. “The single most critical disease issue for the future of barley malt in New York State is Fusarium head blight.
Fusarium-infected grains are contaminated with mycotoxins, particularly deoxynivalenol (DON) or vomitoxin.”
Fusarium head blight is a fungal disease that has a devastating impact on both crop yield and quality. The fungus can resume growing during the malting process, resulting in contamination of malt and beer.
“Fusarium head blight is endemic in our humid New York agricultural environments, dominated by corn and other crops that are susceptible to Fusarium graminearum,” stated Bergstrom.
Malt houses will not purchase grain that tests at more than a mere trace or 1 part per million of Fusarium. Toxins can currently be measured in parts per billion.
Bergstrom noted that 2013 was a “terrible year” for folks in New York who had attempted to start a barley crop for the first time. The extremely wet weather that occurred through June not only coincided with harvest time, but also added to pre-harvest sprouting, prematurely releasing the enzymes desired for malting.
“These are principal problems affecting quality,” Bergstrom acknowledged.
Malted barley provides sugars that are critical in producing beer. The malting process allows the grain to partially germinate, providing availability of enzymes to the brewer.
“When the enzymes are already activated in the field, it’s of no use to the malting process for making beer,” Bergstrom confirmed.
Scott O’Mara of Canastota, Madison County, reported having had a bumper crop of malting barley on his family farm’s first endeavor in 2012.
O’Mara’s had been growing feed barley for over 10 years, which they had either sold to dog food plants or fed to their herd of Black Angus.
“We put in 100 acres of malting barley, half and half, two-row and six-row. It was a beautiful spring and in March we had a beautiful crop!” O’Mara stated. “We sold barley to Farmhouse Malt of Newark Valley, NY, and to Valley Malt of Hadley, MA. They’re making beautiful malt out of it and they’re very happy with it. So, there is opportunity there.”
They are still selling stored malting barley from that 2012 crop.
However, O’Mara also reported that their 2013 crop did fail. “We had logging and head blight. It would not make malting quality. So, we’ve seen both ends of the spectrum.”
Finding seed that will withstand the climate is a huge factor in deciding whether or not to pursue planting malting barley.
“The varieties available to us are not selected for this environment,” Bergstrom pointed out. He explained that available varieties are not adapted to heat, humidity and moisture, which are the conditions they’re exposed to in New York.
Furthermore, there is no supported barley-breeding program in the northeast that is attempting to produce regionally adapted varieties.
“There is a selection program,” said Bergstrom. “We’re looking at varieties to see what might be best adapted here from all around the world. Some varieties from Northern Europe may work here.”
Attendees asked if they could produce their own seed varieties or use bin run seed.
“The further you get away from certified seed, the more problems you are going to run into,” Bergstrom cautioned.
“Brewers prefer certified seed for assurance of purity and quality,” agreed Ganoe.
Another important factor to consider is where you plan to plant. Corn debris will likely contaminate the sensitive crop. “Corn is the biggest reservoir for fungus!” attested Bergstrom. “Do not follow corn with malting barley. Spores live for several years following corn residue.”
Following wheat, sod or another barley crop is also discouraged because of disease pathogens. Following a no-till situation is definitely not suitable for malting barley.
Rotating malting barley with soybeans, oats or vegetable crops where fewer residues are left behind is the best choice.
Malting barley crops require non-compacted, well-drained soil, with a pH of 6.3-7.0 and a low nitrogen rate. Seed should be drilled in at 1-1.5 inches deep at 2 bushels per acres.
“Don’t get carried away with seeding,” warned Ganoe. “Higher seeding rates tend to obscure kernel plumpness — so that’s important!”
Maltsters generally desire lower protein numbers of 11-12.5 percent.
For growing winter varieties, seed should be planted mid-September to mid-October. No earlier, no later. “It’s a pretty small window,” admitted Ganoe. “It’s a balancing act.”
There is some difference in proteins and enzymes to consider between the two-row and six-row varieties. Most brewers prefer two-row varieties for malting purposes. Uniformity and plumpness of kernels are desired.
Another factor for success with this crop concerns effective disease management. And most critical is applying fungicide at the proper time.
“Critical treatment for Fusarium head blight is a little early in the barley crop,” Bergstrom reported. “Be ready as soon as those heads emerge! The fungicide needs to be there before the disease hits.” This gives about a 5-day window for application.
Other diseases that attack malting barley include a number of rust diseases, powdery mildew and a variety of leaf blights. Seed that is not certified may be infected with smut disease. “You need clean planting stock!” Bergstrom stressed.
Planting disease resistant varieties with fungicide application at the critical time are the first line of defense for success with this crop.
Crops that are not of quality for malting may be used for cow feed or possibly sold to distilleries. “A lot of distilleries don’t use malted grain in distillery processes and they make use of non-malted grain,” commented Bergstrom. Forming relationships with breweries, distilleries and livestock owners beforehand is necessary. “These relationships are something you need to think about before you have the crop in hand, not after.”
Growing barley for malting in New York State
Risks and management discussed at Malting Barley Roundtable