Oregon State University has developed the first winter hooded barley that produces high yields of forage, thrives in the Northwest and resists a crop-damaging fungus known as stripe rust. 

Until now, no single variety of hooded winter barley could do these three things, said Pat Hayes, the head of OSU's barley breeding program. Researchers accomplished the feat by crossing two successful cultivars.

The new variety, named Verdant, is best-suited for forage for livestock because it produces abundant leafy matter. In field experiments, Verdant produced a maximum of 10 tons of forage per acre and yielded a maximum of 2.7 tons of grain per acre, he said.

Verdant is most likely to succeed in the Willamette Valley, the Palouse and the Columbia Basin, he added.

OSU has exclusively licensed Verdant for five years to Tri-State Seed Co., a wholesale and retail seed marketer in Connell, Wash.

Verdant, technically known as OR712, is a cross between the “Kold” and “Hoody” winter barley cultivars. Hoody is the only hooded winter barley that can grow in the Pacific Northwest but it's susceptible to stripe rust, Hayes said. Kold, on the other hand, resists the disease and grows in the Northwest but doesn't have high yields of grain and forage.

When compared with Hoody, Verdant produced more grain and forage and had heavier kernels and better resistance to stripe rust, Hayes said.

Stripe rust causes rows of yellowish-orange pustules on the leaves. Under severe conditions, pustules may form in the spike, which houses the kernels. The pathogen, which thrives in cool, wet weather, can significantly reduce yields and the quality of the grain.

Hooded varieties of barley are used primarily for forage. Winter varieties are planted in the fall and are harvested for forage in mid-June and for grain in mid-July. These early harvest times may allow for planting a crop of a cool-season vegetable in some environments, Hayes said.

Ten years in making

It took 10 years to bring Verdant to market. Field trials took place from 2001-04 at OSU's Hyslop Farm near Corvallis. With funding from the Oregon Grains Commission, researchers kept the crosses that had hooded spikes and high bushel weight, resisted stripe rust and scald (a disease caused by another fungus) and were resistant to lodging (straw breakage). They then planted these lines at OSU research plots in other parts of Oregon. Verdant stood out and was later grown on plots in southern Idaho, northern California and parts of Utah. Washington State University, the University of Idaho and the USDA also helped grow and test the variety.

As part of the licensing agreement with Tri-State Seed, OSU will maintain breeder's seed and will receive royalties of two cents a pound to fund the development of additional varieties of barley, Hayes said. Verdant barley has its own DNA "fingerprint," or genetic profile, which was developed with the support of the USDA-NIFA Barley CAP Project to provide more efficient development of varieties in the future.

This new variety is part of OSU's efforts to develop Oregon's barley industry. In addition to creating new varieties, Hayes is exploring the malting qualities in Oregon's six-row winter barleys, which he hopes can satisfy the region's taste for quality microbrews.

Hayes also is collaborating with OSU food chemist and baker Andrew Ross to develop a healthy, beta-glucan-rich food barley, which they have used to make bread. Hayes has also received $850,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop barley that tolerates climate change.

As part of OSU's effort to create a market for Oregon-grown barley, OSU students plan to build during this winter term a malter capable of processing up to 300 pounds of barley. It will be funded with a recent $12,352 grant from the Agricultural Research Foundation. The equipment will become part of the university's existing research brewery. The idea is that researchers and companies would pay to use the machine to test new barley varieties or malting techniques. In the future, the departments involved in the malt unit may collaborate on building a mini-pearler to remove hulls from barley. As with malters, current pearler machines are designed for very large or very small amounts.

Last year, Oregon farmers sold $9.3 million of barley, an increase of 24 percent from 2009 figures, harvested on 34,450 acres, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service.

More information on OSU's work with barley is at http://barleyworld.org.