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Feb 3

Masters of malt: Elite Barley recognizes excellence

Posted on Feb 3 By: Kailen Renelle Krawec

The Elite Barley: Canadian Malting Barley Grower Recognition Program celebrates the best in Western Canadian malt barley production.  Credit: AB Archives
Producing malt-quality barley is a proud achievement for many barley growers. Each year, the Elite Barley: Canadian Malting Barley Grower Recognition Program celebrates producers who meet numerous production challenges—from weather to harvest to storage—in order to produce the best malt barley in Canada.

An industry-led program, exceptional producers of malt barley are nominated by participating grain and malting companies from across Western Canada. With a total of 15 nominations, this year’s special report featured four Alberta farmers:

Frank Hamel of Olds (and also Outlook, Sask.), nominated by Canada Malting Co. Ltd.; Gerard Neill of Morrin, nominated by Canada Malting Co. Ltd.; Chris and Robert Izyk of Blackie, nominated by Rahr Malting Canada Ltd.; and Mike Vavrek of Sexsmith, nominated by Viterra.

“The area we’re in is a good location to achieve malt quality barley,” explains Chris Izyk. “Taking advantage of the conditions and the lower input cost with malt, I feel that there is a bit of a premium to be had that makes the risks worthwhile.”

“These elite growers take great care in pre-seeding planning and in the growing, harvesting, and storage management of their malting barley to the needs and specifications of their customers,” explains program Co-chair Michael Brophy, president and CEO of the Brewing and Malting Barley Research Institute (BMBRI). “They treat their malting barley as a specialty crop.”

This year’s nominees shared best management practices, including variety selections, crop rotation, seed rate and date, crop protection, harvest methods, and storage practices. Seeding early was key for all the nominees. Some tips, however, were location specific, including fertility planning and seeding upon particular types of crop stubble. Elite growers also bought certified seed and performed soil tests; however, a significant number only did this once every two or three years.

The Izyks have kept up-to-date with certified seed and approved varieties over the years; prior to growing AC Metcalfe, they grew Harrington.

“We’re optimistic about some of the new varieties,” explains Izyk. “The new varieties have better agronomic packages, so if a person ended up on the feed side of the market, at least there is a decent amount of volume there. The new yields are more comparable to the feed varieties.”

In terms of harvest and storage, straight cutting between 13.5–16.5 per cent moisture, followed by bin aeration, was viewed as the lowest risk harvest method. Adjusting machinery settings according to the crop and weather conditions also aided in maintaining the high quality kernel condition needed for malting.

As one of the founding partners and a current program sponsor, Alberta Barley sees value in promoting the expansion of barley acres in Canada.

“Sharing effective production tips is the key to encouraging producers to try growing malt,” says Commission Chairman Matt Sawyer. “There is a big benefit to learning the tips of successful growers in your area. Meeting the standards for malt barley is almost an art form.”

While malt is a valued crop, overall production in Canada is declining. According to the Canadian Grain Commission’s Quality of Western Canadian Malting Barley 2011 Report, total barley production was 22 per cent lower than the 10-year average at an estimated 7.4 million tonnes. With close to 45 per cent of total barley production currently in non-malting varieties, this requires a higher selection rate of malting varieties to achieve a 2.5-million-tonne malting barley market requirement.

“The ultimate goal of the program is to encourage the expansion of malting barley production and selection rates in the future,” says Brophy.

Malting barley being examined upon initial delivery to a lab at Rahr Malting Ltd.  Credit: AB Archives
Elite Barley nominees will be recognized in front of industry representatives and fellow producers at the Western Barley Growers Association’s (WBGA’s) 35th annual convention, which runs Feb. 15–17, 2012 in Calgary.

Program sponsors include: Alberta Barley; the Brewers Association of Canada; the Brewing and Malting Barley Research Institute; SeCan; Syngenta; and the WBGA.

The program also enjoys support from these key industry partners: Canada Malting Co. Ltd.; Canadian Grain Commission; Canadian Wheat Board; Canterra Seeds; Malteurop North America Inc.; Prairie Malt Limited; Rahr Malting Canada Ltd.; Richardson Pioneer; Sierra Nevada Brewing Company; Sleeman Breweries Ltd.; and Viterra.

Background information on the Elite Barley program, production tips from past nominees, and other resource information is available in this special report and at


The following production analysis appears courtesy of the Elite Barley program.

Pre-seeding plan

Elite growers often maintained production of the variety that proved to be superior in agronomics, yield potential and demand, while continuing to look for new, improved varieties. Regardless of the varietal choice, it was always crucial to be well organized and plan crop rotations and field selection in advance.

Buying certified seed and soil testing was common among elite growers, although some producers only used these management techniques once every two or three years. Seed treatment was also noted as important by producer nominees.

Growers who have implemented environmental farm plans continue to reap the benefits from these plans. Malt barley was successfully seeded into canola stubble, summer fallow, pea and lentil stubble (minding the soil nitrogen level), and even flax, depending on the region.

It was common for elite growers to use glyphosate or another chemical as pre-seed weed control, although one farmer preferred to use cultivation to accomplish this objective.

Working closely with their local elevators/malting companies helped growers choose an in-demand variety, analyze market signals, and set up production contracts with the use of Cash Plus or other pricing mechanisms.

Crop management

Elite growers agreed that the seeding date should be “the earlier, the better.”
This improved the crop’s chance of success at reaching maturity and developing throughout preferred weather conditions (avoiding summer heat too early in crop development), as well as an early harvest.

A variety of tillage methods are still used, from deep tillage in black soil zones to minimum and zero tillage in brown or grey soil zones. A wide range of seeding rates was reported, from 60 to 135 lbs/ac (approximately 1.25 to 2.81 bu/ac), generally with increased tillage at higher seeding rates. Some producers even experimented with different seeding rates from year to year. The seeding depth varied from 0.75 to 1.25 inches.

Disease management was not nearly as prevalent as weed management, which almost always required a chemical application, sprayed at the recommended stage (as a result of regular crop monitoring). Some farmers have opted for a half rate of fungicide as a precaution against diseases.

Fertility plans for most top producers incorporated spring applied fertilizer, including nitrogen (from 34 to 80 lbs), phosphorus (10 to 40 lbs), and sometimes potassium and sulfur.

Fertility plans for individual growers are a function of soil type, topography, soil tests, and weather conditions in each producer’s area.

Germinating malt is tested to ensure quality.  Credit: AB Archives

Harvest management

Straight cutting between 13.5–16.5 per cent moisture, followed by bin aeration, was still viewed as the lowest risk harvest method. However, a surprising number of nominees advocated swathing, followed by combining four to seven days later, which allowed them to practice selective swathing if needed, hastening and homogenizing the maturity of the crop.

Elite growers agreed that adjusting swathing and combining settings according to the barley crop and weather conditions is critical. This included slowing the rotor down, opening up the concave and setting the wind to 900 rpm to aid in the maintenance of high-quality malt barley. Careful inspection of barley samples coming off the combine by the producer was another safeguard against incorrect combine settings.

Post-harvest management

While it was essential for elite growers without aerated bins to take the crop off dry, some growers with aeration did the same, preferring to haul their barley to malting company elevators directly after harvest. Others stored it in clean, odour-free, flat-bottom or hopper bins with aeration to drop the moisture down. This was carried out with largediametre augers set to low speeds to reduce peeled and broken kernels. Once in the bin, regular monitoring and necessary turning was found to maintain top quality until delivery.

Proper sampling and labelling methods, including preparing a composite from samples taken off each load of barley hauled, were considered essential. Regardless of a production contract, promptly bringing accurate samples in to the elevator was useful for delivery and acceptance opportunities.

The fall season was used by many top producers to soil sample, harrow straw into the field, or manage weed problems, either by cultivation or post-harvest spraying.

Summarized production tips

The following summarized production tips appear courtesy of the Elite Barley program:

  • Elite barley growers understand the benefits of certified seed and most of them use it every other year, but some use it every third year.
  • Growers seed their malt barley most often into canola stubble.
  • They strive for an early seeding date (early May) to allow for early harvest and, thus, reduce concerns with drying the grain.
  • Seeding rates vary considerably, from as low as 60 lbs/acre to as high as 135 lbs/acre.
  • Rates depended on location on the prairies and anticipated water supply during the growing season, with higher seeding rates in areas with adequate moisture.
  • Most elite growers in 2011 seeded established varieties
  • (AC Metcalfe and CDC Copeland), but there was increased interest in Newdale.

  • Growers were almost split evenly in their preference for swathing versus straight cutting.
  • Those who favour swathing waited for the grain to reach 16 per cent moisture and then swathed when there was a five-day window—they liked to combine within five days of swathing.
  • Growers who prefer straight combining generally waited for grain to reach less than 14 per cent moisture before cutting, especially if they had no access to aeration.
  • The majority of growers did aerate, even when straight combining, to dry and cool down their barley.
  • Many of the growers commented on the need to continually adjust combine settings as the harvest day progressed in order to reduce peeling and breakage of the harvested grain.
  • Auger speeds were also closely monitored to reduce peeling and breakage.

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