Winter Barley is Making a Comeback in Ontario!

While not a “new” crop to Ontario, winter barley is slowly making a come back!  Known for its early maturity compared to winter wheat, this crop provides an opportunity to double crop soybeans for those in longer season areas, provides coverage of the soil during winter months, is a great feed source for livestock rations and straw, helps spread the workload and provides a great opportunity for manure management and cover crops. If grown to spec, winter barley can also be used for malt.

Winter barley has had its challenges including poor winter survival and a lack of new variety development. Recent interest in this winter crop however, could be bringing new genetics to Ontario making it a much more viable option for Ontario cereal growers. While the introduction of new varieties is still a year or so away, there is a lot of excitement out there so here are a few things to consider if you are interested in seeding this crop on your farm.

When should winter barley be seeded?

While we do our best to seed winter wheat early for improved winter survival, this could not be more important with winter barley. Winter barley should be seeded at least 7-10 days prior to the optimum winter wheat seeding date for your region (Figure 1). Given the need to plant early, winter barley fits well into a rotation after edible beans, canola, peas, or early maturing soybean varieties. Winter barley is not recommended for northern Ontario due to winter survival challenges. Early planting can increase the risk of Barley Yellow Dwarf infection, which is vectored by aphids, so a seed treatment to protect against aphids may be necessary.

map depicting the optimum planting dates for winter wheat across Ontario
Figure 1: Optimum planting dates for winter wheat in Ontario.  Winter barley should be seeded 7-10 days prior to the optimum date outlined here for your region.

Winter barley should also be seeded at a rate of 1.4-1.8 million seeds/acre with seed placed phosphorus whenever possible.  Fields selected for winter barley should also be well drained because it does not like wet feet!

Do I manage it the same as winter wheat?

Winter barley should receive 80-100 lbs of nitrogen depending on soil type, crop rotation and history of manure applications.  If pushing higher rates of nitrogen or there is a history of manure, lodging may be a concern and split nitrogen applications, or a plant growth regulator may be required to manage lodging.  Winter barley should also be scouted for disease throughout the growing season and fungicides applied if disease is present.

What kind of yields can I expect?

While growers have reported winter barley yields of up to 150 bu/ac, yields will vary depending on location, soil type, seeding date, etc. Yield data from the winter barley registration trials planted in the fall of 2019 and harvested in 2020, ranged from an average of 87 bu/ac to 150 bu/ac (Table 1).  The trials were set up at four locations: Harrow, Ridgetown, Tupperville and Winterbourne. The trials looked at several winter barley lines from around the world to identify those that may be best suited for Ontario’s growing conditions. The lines tested included a mix of 6-row and 2-row varieties with some having malt characteristics.

LocationYield (bu/ac)
Harrow87
Ridgetown115
Tupperville150
Winterbourne138

Some locations experienced snow in May and lodging issues close to harvest showing us what these varieties can really do even under stressful conditions. These winter barley registration trials will continue for 2020-2021 with the hopes of having some varieties registered in time for fall 2021 planting.

Where do I market my winter barley crop?

End uses for winter barley include livestock rations, malt and for human consumption. However, the market for winter barley can be a challenge. That is why it is recommended that you know EXACTLY where your crop is going to go or how you are going to market it before you even plant it. Contacting your local elevator or seed dealer is a great starting point.

Can I double crop soybeans?

Growers in southern Ontario have had great success with double cropping soybeans after their winter barley is harvested. The same practices that are used for planting soybeans after winter wheat can be applied to winter barley. With timely planting after harvest and adequate moisture to get those soybeans started, you’re off to the races!