Taking Steps To Assure Barley Has a Bright Future in Virginia
Crop and Soil Environmental News, August 1997
Daniel E. Brann
Barley has been grown on 75,000-100,000 acres for grain in Virginia for decades. Virginia barley was considered a good feed source for all classes of livestock. In the last decade barley demand has decreased as poultry and swine enterprises became more integrated and demanded different diets. Virginia Tech research has shown barley to be an excellent feed source for broiler poultry when used as a substitute for corn up to 20% of the diet, but this information has not changed feed ingredient demands by poultry companies. Barley is now mainly used in the dairy, beef, horse, and sheep industries. The amount of barley needed by livestock industries other than poultry and swine is not adequate to assure that barley will be priced relative to its value in the animals diet. Good barley has an energy value of 1,350 kcal/pound compared to 1,550 kcal/pound for corn (0.87%). A bushel of barley weighs 48 lbs or .86% of a bushel of corn. Considering the higher protein levels of barley, it should be priced in the range of 75-85% of a bushel of corn. However, without demand by the poultry and swine industries or export demand, barley will be marketed at "bargain basement prices." The economic law of supply and demand works!
Local barley demand was excellent in 1996 due to extremely high corn prices. Several poultry and swine companies used more barley in their diets. Barley brought above $3.00 per bushel in June of 1996. Corn supplies increased in 1996 and by June 1997 corn in eastern Virginia was bringing $2.75 to $3.00 per bushel. At $2.75-$3.00 corn prices, barley brought $1.65-$1.80 per bushel in the early 1990's. Barley was bringing between $2.00 to $2.10 per bushel in eastern Virginia in June of 1997. The difference in barley price in 1997 was the opportunity for Cargill in Norfolk to successfully bid on millions of bushels of high test weight (48.0 + test weight) barley. The sale of millions of bushels of barley from Norfolk in June of 1997 increased the price of barley by at least 20¢ to 30¢ per bushel as estimated by Virginia grain buyers. Export in 1998 could also dramatically increase barley prices.
The opportunity to participate in high test weight international markets will not guarantee a sale nor will it guarantee higher prices. There is, however, a very high probability that if we can export more barley from Norfolk that the local price in eastern Virginia will be higher. The high test weight barley in 1997 was the result of good management and good weather. The major factor was weather that favored good grain fill and timely harvest. In other words, the ability to export barley to high test weight markets was good luck in 1997. In season management practices such as disease control and timely harvest can help maintain good test weight, but the only management practice that can dramatically improve the probability of meeting the 48 + lbs/bushel test weight is variety selection. Callao barley has a test weight that has averaged over 50 lbs/bu in state tests the past three years. Callao barley has a genetic test weight that is at least 3 lbs/bushel higher than the leading varieties of Nomini and Starling. Yields of Callao are equal to the best varieties, but the growth regulator "Cerone" may be needed to improve standability when striving for high yields. In 1996, Virginia seedsmen grew sufficient certified Callao seed to grow 15,000 acres in 1997-1998 or 10-15% of the barley acres in the state. The higher test weight barley may enable at least one cargo of 1.1 million bushels of high test weight barley to be marketed from Norfolk. We need a good export market if we are to continue producing above 75,000 acres of barley in Virginia in the near future. Contact the Virginia Crop Improvement Association in Richmond, Virginia for sources of Callao barley seed, your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office, or Virginia Cooperative Extension's Web page at http://www.ext.vt.edu to get a copy of the 1997 barley variety results.
Longer term Virginia Tech research and extension programs are exploring ways to re-enter barley into the main stream as a source of feed for poultry and swine. Barley has a hull of a problem compared to corn. The barley hull greatly increases the fiber which is not desirable in broiler and rapidly growing swine diets. Dr. Carl Griffey, the small grains breeder at Virginia Tech with support from the small grains check-off program, is leading an effort to develop barley varieties that have the hull removed when harvesting. The first year's results in 1997 were encouraging. Further research with hulless barley lines and high test weight normal varieties may be keys to a bright and possibly even an expanding future for barley in Virginia.
Barley works well in many crop rotations when harvested for grain and silage. We need to continue to search for ways to effectively utilize this crop. The major breeding programs for barley east of the Mississippi are in Georgia and Virginia Tech. If barley prices are not profitable on extensive acreage, continued support for breeding programs is unlikely. Oats used to be grown on extensive acreage, but they have largely disappeared. Virginia Tech discontinued statewide evaluation of oats about 20 years ago. We do not want barley to disappear the way oats have in Virginia.