Malting barley trials prove useful in variety selection

To overcome the lack of malting barley varieties bred in or for Michigan, variety trial research is crucial in identifying and recommending varieties to support a growing industry.

In 2015, a two-site variety trial was managed by staff from the Michigan State University Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center (UPREC). The trial was supported by a grant through the American Malting Barley Association. The primary goal of this research was to examine a set of malting barley varieties for yield and quality performance in various climatic regions of Michigan. MSU collaborated on this trial with eight other states and two locations in Canada, through the Eastern Spring Barley Nursery program – spearheaded by the Craft Maltsters Guild. The two trial locations were the Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in Chatham, MI (Alger County) and Hampel Farm (Grand Traverse County). Residing in diverse regions, each area has a long history of small grain production and multiple craft malthouses due to start production with the intent to source locally grown barley. Each plot utilized a rectangular lattice experimental design, which allows for good statistical analysis of results. Twenty-seven varieties were tested in four replications.

Trial data is summarized below, however complete data for all varieties across both locations can be found at the UPREC Malting Barley website.


A composite sample of the four replications of each variety was sent to the grain analysis lab at North Dakota State University for assessment. Selected parameters that are of high interest to the malting industry are:

  1. Protein – seeking less than 12.5 percent, which will yield more malt extract
  2. DON – indicator of Fusarium head blight (FHB) and deoxynivalenol contamination, needs to be less than one ppm
  3. RVA – indicator of pre-harvest sprout, which will equate to poorly germinating grain that will not store well for long periods, optimum levels are greater than 120, values down to 50 exhibit intermediate pre-germination, but can be malted if stored and handled properly

Other parameters tested involve germination factors and kernel size, including plumpness. Samples are also sent to the USDA-ARS Cereals lab in Madison, WI, where they are micro-malted and analyzed for malting characteristics.

The Chatham site experienced below average yields, but many varieties had favorable grain and malt quality parameters. The plot mean yield was 52 bushels per acre, although the seven-year average in Chatham is 62 bushels per acre. Despite lower than average yields, the Chatham site experienced no presence of DON in any of the varieties. Twelve of the 27 varieties met the AMBA ideal malt protein criteria for all malt two row, which is under 12 percent. All but four varieties were under 13 percent. Incidence of pre-harvest sprout was much better than years past with 12 varieties with an RVA of over 120, and only two below 50. The majority of the varieties had suitable malt quality profiles, with the exception of overall high FAN scores.

The Buckley site was significantly challenged by weather. An excessive rainfall event occurred 12 days before harvest followed by a pattern of heavy dews and consistent rains. This delayed harvest presented the opportunity for considerable sprout damage, as evidenced by the very low RVA numbers. As shown by previous research, varieties native to the United Kingdom fared much better in terms of resistance to pre-harvest sprout than their North American counterparts. Yield at Buckley was significantly higher than Chatham, with a respective plot mean of 75 bushels per acre. DON levels were not a concern and grain protein was consistently below 12 percent. In terms of malt quality, excessive sprout damage likely affected malting profiles. FAN levels were also high.


Average Yield (bu per ac)

Average Protein (Percent)

Average DON (ppm)

# Varieties with RVA ≥ 120

# Varieties with RVA ≥ 50 & < 120

# Varieties with RVA < 50















Future plans

Staff at UPREC in cooperation with Michigan State University Extension  and Michigan State University AgBioResearch  plan to host a three-site trial (Alger, Presque Isle, and Barry Counties) in 2016 to continue to build on the data collected on these varieties. A site was added at the Kellogg Biological Station in response to the growing malting barley acres in southwest Michigan. Information gained from these trials have and will continue to be used to inform producers and seed growers on what varieties have potential in the state.

If you are interested in malting barley or malt production, contact me, coordinator of the Michigan State University Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in Chatham, Michigan, at 906-439-5176 or

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