Fields of barley are an increasingly common sight in the Northern Great Plains. The major barley-growing provinces and states include Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, North Dakota, and Montana. In Alberta, for example, in 1997 5.6 million acres were seeded to barley, a crop acreage exceeded only by wheat. North Dakota, with 2 million acres under barley in 1998, produces almost one-third of the national output.
Barley is most famous for its use as malt in the brewing and spirits industries. But due to high-glucan and dietary fiber fractions in some types of barley, there is a growing interest in barley in the food industry. Barley is also widely used as a feedgrain and for silage (conserved green matter). Beef cattle fed on barley have similar rates of weight gain as those fed on corn, and dairy cows fed barley silage have similar gains as those fed alfalfa silage.
There are two main types of barley, sixrowed and two-rowed. Six-rowed barley has three kernels at each node of the head, and with two sides to every head, appears to have six kernels in a row around the head. Tworowed barley has one kernel at each node, appearing to have only two kernels in a row. Barley comes in both hulled and hulless forms. Hulless barley is similar to wheat in that the hull is removed, exposing the kernel, during threshing. Hulless barley is associated with reduced manure production, an important consideration for intensive livestock production where disposal of manure is costly and difficult. From the beer in your glass to the meat on your plate, barley has an important role to play in its production.
Patricia Juskiw Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Field Crop Development Centre