Barley in field.Barley

Two basic types of barley — feed and malting — are grown in Minnesota. 

MN map marking barley production area.

The U of M breeding program focused on malting varieties for the last half century. Earlier, high protein feed varieties for livestock were developed. As rail and truck distribution improved, breweries in St. Louis, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and other Midwest centers dominated the U.S. market. Quality barley was made possible by the climate and soils of western Minnesota and the Dakotas, matched with highly desirable seed developed by U of M researchers. A 1992 economic study documented that about two-thirds of all beer produced in the U.S. contained barley developed by U of M Agricultural Experiment Station scientists.

Glass of beer with barley.

Much of the beer produced in major U.S. breweries is made from Minnesota barley varieties.

The primary goals of the barley breeding program are to develop high yielding varieties that are disease resistant, and that demonstrate exceptionally high malting and brewing qualities.

Barley harvest.

U of M researchers harvest barley test plots in late July at the Northwest Research and Outreach Center, Crookston.

The American Malting Barley Association supports U of M research, and tests rail-car quantities of any upcoming release to ensure it will offer brewers an improved product. For example, the varieties 'Morex' and 'Robust' provided malt houses with a higher percent of malt extract per bushel, as well as reduced malting time. Over a ten-year period this amounted to $297 million more for farmers and the brewing industry, from a $9 million investment in research and extension work. Growers support those efforts through the Minnesota Barley Research and Promotion Council.

Barley breeding in lab,

Technology plays an increased role in the development of new crops, including barley. Genetic engineering allows scientists to more precisely improve plant characteristics.

Agronomists, plant pathologists, and molecular geneticists are now breeding barley — and wheat — for resistance to fusarium head blight, or scab. Through the 1990s this fungal disease resulted in over 1 billion dollars of losses. In 1998 the University released 'MnBrite' — a variety with some resistance — and in 2000, 'Lacey' — a moderately resistant variety. Fully resistant varieties are the goal of a focused research effort enabled by special legislative funding.

Continue on to Sweet Corn and Green Peas

Major Milestones

University of Minnesota malting barleys are "6-row" types, which yield the most grain per acre. Only one U of M variety, 'Svansota,' was a 2-row type like those grown in the drier, western production areas of Montana and Idaho.

  • MANCHURIA, was named and released in 1918 but was first selected in 1901 as Minn 184. The first nine U of M Agricultural Experiment Station barley varieties — through WWII — were feed types.
  • VELVET, 1926, was developed to eliminate the sharp hairs — awns — that prick farmers' skin and cause sores in animals' mouths. All but two barley varieties released since then have smooth awns.
  • MOREX, is named for "more extract" that it provides brewers. From 1980-84 it was grown on twice as many U.S. acres as any other barley.
  • ROBUST, yields the plump, robust kernels favored by the malting industry. A 1983 release, it has a higher grain yield than 'Morex' and was grown on half the acreage in the tri-state area (ND, SD, MN) from 1985-99.
  • EXCEL, is a 1990 U of M release that combined the high grain yield of 'Robust' and high malt extract of 'Morex'.

U of M Barley Varieties

Manchuria1918
Minsturdi1922
Svansota1926
Velvet1926
Peatland1926
Glabron1929
Regal1931
Mars1945
Forrest1957
Cree1974
Manker1974
Morex1978
Robust 1983
Excel1990
Strander1993
Royal1994
MNBrite1998
Lacey2000