Last year, 73 per cent of Prairie acres that grew two-row malt barley were seeded with AC Metcalfe or CDC Copeland. Because both of these varieties have been available for quite a few years, Michael Brophy, President and CEO of the Brewing and Malt Barley Research Institute (BMBRI), would like farmers to have more options. “My hope is that we never have another 20-year-old variety again in Canada.”
There are new varieties that yield higher than AC Metcalfe and have lower protein (a quality valued by many malt-buyers). However, there must be demand for new varieties before farmers will be willing to grow them.
Before they will be welcomed into the system, replacement malt barley varieties must be high yielding, adaptable across Western Canada, resistant to disease pressure, and have the quality specs that end users want.
The BMBRI works at the beginning of the Canadian value chain, funding and guiding breeding and research, evaluating and testing new varieties, and then assisting with the official registration of new varieties. Getting a new variety from the breeding stage to the registration stage can take time.
“It takes 12 years to actually bring in varieties to the state of registration,” Brophy told farmers at CropSphere in Saskatoon in January. “So we’re really evaluating the outcome of crosses made 12 or 13 years ago.”
There is a lot of barley breeding research happening across Canada. However, Brophy says, “to those looking for one replacement for Metcalfe, I don’t believe that’s the solution going forward.”
The varieties in the table are possibilities for farmers looking for a variety other than CDC Copeland or AC Metcalfe. Some buyers are contracting for Newdale, Brophy said, but if you plan to grow it, “you want to make sure you have a contract.” There is also, he said, “a lot of interest” in Synergy. It yields higher than AC Metcalfe and is potentially suited to AC Metcalfe markets.
Brophy asked farmers to push malt buyers to try new varieties. “Tell them you’re fed up with growing Metcalfe.”
As for six-row varieties, demand has been declining. “We’re not funding six-row breeding anymore,” Brophy said.