Interest growing in barley for brewing

Texas A&M studying best varieties for Texas producers to meet new markets

Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608, skledbetter@ag.tamu.edu
Contact: Dr. Clark Neely, 979-862-1412, cbneely@tamu.edu

This field of winter six-row barley was growing near Lubbock in 2015 in a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service variety trial. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

This field of winter six-row barley was growing near Lubbock in 2015 in a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service variety trial. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

COLLEGE STATION – Barley might not be on the top of the list as a feed and forage for livestock, but the growing interest in craft breweries and micro distilleries has Texas A&M AgriLife researchers taking a look at the crop.

Currently, barley is grown on only about 30,000 acres in Texas, said Dr. Clark Neely, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service state small grains specialist, College Station. It is mainly used for feed and forage for livestock.

But that is expected to change somewhat in the near future, Neely said, due to increased interest in craft breweries and distilleries searching for locally grown malt and distilling ingredients.

The craft brewing movement is exploding across the U.S., he said. Texas was home to 189 craft breweries in 2015 – a number that  tripled in the last five years and now ranks seventh in the country. These breweries produce approximately 1.1 million barrels of beer annually, which requires roughly 200,000 tons of barley grain and could potentially support 100,000 acres or more of barley in the state.

The missing link is craft malt houses, where the grain is soaked and made into malt, Neely said. Breweries require malted barley and cannot purchase barley straight out of the field.

Winter six-row barley growing near Thrall in April in a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service variety trial. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Winter six-row barley growing near Thrall in April in a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service variety trial. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Currently, Texas has only one craft malt house, but business is good and expansion is planned in the near future, he said. Another two malt houses are in the building stages, so capacity is on the rise to support the craft brewing malt barley needs.

“With interest in local ingredients for these new markets along with feed barley for a growing dairy industry in the Texas High Plains, we have started looking for barley varieties that are adapted to Texas climates and those that can withstand drought, disease and pest pressure,” he said.

Neely said he doesn’t expect a surge in researchers screening barley germplasm or breeding new lines, but his program is beginning to evaluate existing varieties and out-of-state breeding germplasm for their viability in Texas.

In 2016, Neely’s program included a study of 112 spring two-row, 113 spring six-row and 136 winter barley varieties grown in Castroville, McGregor, Lubbock and College Station.

Initial results show a wide range of adaptation from the barley lines evaluated under Texas climates, although continued screening will look for lines with superior yields and malting characteristics, he said.

Neely said while the brewery demand for barley is growing, it remains a niche market. The largest market for barley is still as a forage.

New barley variety options may provide cattle or dairy producers a more drought-tolerant, water- and nitrogen-use efficient alternative to wheat for use in forage and silage production, he said.

To address this, the same advanced winter breeding lines from the Triticeae Coordinated Agricultural Project that were evaluated for grain and malting were also screened under Texas environments for forage and silage production, Hessian fly resistance and yield stability across environments.

The initial year of screening in 2014 evaluated 800-plus barley lines, but these have since been reduced to 150 lines based on characteristics such as disease resistance, vernalization requirements and grain production, he said.

The project will further screen these lines to identify the ones with the highest production capabilities for forage and grain production in Texas and evaluate if they are superior to existing cultivars.

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