Barley

24.05.17

Overview

Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is a widely grown and highly adaptable cereal crop that is grown predominantly for stockfeed and for malt for the brewing industry. Australia produces high quality barley, with annual production averaging around seven million tonnes per annum. It is Australia’s second largest crop in volume (behind wheat) and is grown across a large geographic area (almost four million hectares) from Western Australia across to the eastern states.

Barley is usually grown for either malting barley or stock feed markets, with different varieties better suited to each end use. However, it is quality standards that determine whether barley grown for the malting market is ultimately accepted, therefore the feed barley market provides a valuable market for any ‘below standard’ malting grain.

Australian growers produce around 2.5 million tonnes of malting barley each year and 4.5 million tonnes of feed barley. Domestic demand for malting barley is around one million tonnes per year and Australian domestic feed use is around two million tonnes each year, resulting in approximately 60% of the total barley crop being exported each year.

Generally, barley is grown as a broadacre crop on large agricultural enterprises (several hundred or thousands of hectares) and commercial production may require a potentially large investment of capital in land, infrastructure and inputs if establishing a new enterprise. It is grown in rotation with winter and summer crops (cereals, oilseeds and grain legumes) depending on climate and availability of irrigation water. It may also be grown in rotation with pasture for grazing enterprises.

Facts and figures

  • Barley is a widely grown cereal crop
  • It is used mainly for the production of malt for the brewing industry and for stock feed
  • Barley is the second largest grain crop (by volume) grown in Australia
  • Australia produces around seven million tonnes of barley per annum
  • Australia makes up over 30% of the world’s malting barley trade and approximately 20% of the world’s feed barley trade

Production status

Barley is grown across most of Australia, except for the Northern Territory and the tropical zones of Australia. Barley in Australia is generally grown for either malting or feedstock with Australian growers producing around 2.5 million tonnes of malting barley and 4.5 million tonnes of feed barley each year.

Domestically, malting barley demand is around one million tonnes per year and Australian domestic feed use is around two million tonnes each year. The remaining Australian production, equating to approximately 60% of production, is exported to countries in Asia and the Middle East.

In 2012–13 Australia produced 7.5 million tonnes of barley with a gross value of AU$2 billion.

Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Brewers use barley (and/or malt) to produce beer and Scochu (a Japanese distilled spirit). Barley is converted into malt by subjecting it to germination and mild kilning. Malt is also used in many food products, including breakfast cereals, milk drink flavorings, bakery items and confectionery.

Barley is used as stock feed, especially in the intensive pig, poultry, dairy and beef industries, as a source of energy and protein.

The trade for barley food products (such as flour, flakes or grits) other than malt, for human consumption is small. However, CSIRO has developed a new variety of barley, BARLEYmax™, which delivers a high level of dietary fibre and can be used to produce foods with a low glycaemic index.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Barley can be grown in most areas where broadacre cropping is possible, particularly in the traditional cereal production and mixed farming regions of Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, southern Queensland and Tasmania.

Soil type

Barley is well adapted to a wide range of soil types except those prone to waterlogging or with a low soil pH. Barley is more salt-tolerant than wheat and therefore is better suited to soils affected by salinity.

Climate

Barley grows predominantly in the temperate climate zones of Australia but also grows well in the subtropical zones of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland.

Rainfall in the barley growing areas ranges from 250 to 800mm per annum. Different varieties and types have different rainfall requirements and tolerance to soil moisture. Irrigation may be used to supplement rainfall or boost yields.

While barley has good frost tolerance relative to other cereals, spring frosts during September and early October can cause damage and seriously impact grain yield.

Varieties

As at 2013, there were approximately 15 varieties of barley available for growing in Australia. When choosing a variety, the main decision for growers will be whether to grow for the malting or feed markets.

The Western Australia Department of Agriculture and Food suggests the decision whether to grow barley for the malting or feed grade markets depends on four main factors:

  • the premium paid for grain that is acceptable as malting grade
  • the relative yields of malting and feed grade barley
  • agronomic and disease constraints of the different varieties
  • the likelihood that grain from a malting barley variety will be accepted as malting grade.

Some state governments list barley varieties appropriate to their agricultural regions within the state, e.g.Victoria and Western Australia, while the Barley Australia website provides links to each state Department of Primary Industries’ barley sowing guide. Barley Australia publishes a list of its preferred varieties to assist growers make decisions about sowing. However growers should contact their preferred marketer and agronomist to discuss variety options prior to planting.

If further information about varieties is required, the Australian Barley Varieties Handbook is available for purchase from Barley Australia. Detailed information about the performance of new and existing varieties in different geographical locations can be sourced from the National Variety Trials website.

Planting and crop management

Planting and crop management requirements for barley will vary between growing regions and the varieties planted.

Identifying the variety best suited to a particular region, that will deliver the greatest return consistent with the grower’s risk profile, will require consideration of relative yield, disease resistance, marketing options, the probability of achieving particular quality grades and the relative End Point Royalty (EPR) charged on varieties. For relevant, regionally-based advice, the Barley Australia website provides links to each state Department of Primary Industries’ barley sowing guide which contain detailed information for each state.

Generally speaking, after preparing paddocks by spraying for weeds at the start of the year, barley is planted from late April to early June (or even July), usually following a significant rain event. Barley is somewhat versatile in its planting time as it has a slightly better frost tolerance than wheat; so it can be planted earlier in the season and while it may have reached its flowering stage, is not as likely to be affected by spring frosts. Barley can also be a better late planting option than wheat, especially if feed grain prices are good.

However, early planting of barley will generally produce higher yields, larger grain size and lower protein levels making it more likely to achieve malt quality. Growers must consider that crops planted early are more likely to have exposure to frost during flowering, therefore the frost risk must be assessed prior to planting.  Early sown barley crops are also likely to experience higher foliar disease pressure requiring either selecting varieties with high levels of resistance to the major leaf diseases or the use of fungicides.

Effective crop management depends on being able to identify the growth stage of the crop at any given time, which is crucial for understanding for the timing of herbicide/fungicide and fertiliser applications. The NSW Department of Primary Industries’ publication Barley Growth and Development provides detailed information to assist new barley producers to understand the crop’s growth stages.

Applications of fertiliser, particularly nitrogen, will be critical to maximising crop yield. To understand how much fertiliser to apply, growers need to gain an understanding of existing soil nutrition. For new producers, consulting an agronomist or advisor to undertake this assessment is recommended. In the meantime, many state departments of primary industries will have information on their websites to assist growers understand and manage their soils, similar to this guide from the Western Australia Department of Agriculture and Food.

Barley can be grown under irrigation, so long as the soils are well drained and waterlogging does not occur. Overhead or raised bed irrigation systems are the most appropriate for barley production.

Weeds, pests, and diseases

Weed control is important in barley crops, as it is for all crops although barley is known to be more competitive with grass weeds than other crops. Weeds will compete with the crop for light, moisture and nutrients, therefore reducing yield potential. Further, grass weeds in particular can host pests and disease pathogens, from one cereal crop to the next. Good weed management is a critical component of integrated weed, pest and disease management programs.

Barley is not overly susceptible to damage from field insects although significant problems can arise if conditions favour the build-up of insect populations.  Early season infestations of aphids, which transmit plant viruses, can lead to the crop losses due to the Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV); control of such infestations, particularly in higher rainfall regions, is strongly advised.  New producers should consult an agronomist or advisor about planning crop rotations that minimise pest carryover, as well as gain an understanding of how to control weeds, pests and diseases.

The Western Australia Department of Agriculture and Food has a comprehensive list of pests, diseases andweeds that may affect barley crops. The Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries also provides a list of barley’s pests and diseases.

When stored, barley quality is more susceptible to insect damage than many grains due to the need for high levels of germination for malting. Even light infestations of weevils can reduce barley germination rates. Weevils can also eat or contaminate barley intended for livestock feed. Aerated storage, cool temperatures and low moisture levels will reduce the chances of insect infestation.

It is also important to note that chemical residues in barley can cause problems in some markets, so any proposed treatment for an insect infestation should be carefully considered and an agronomist or adviser consulted prior to fumigation.

Links to a range of documents, publications and apps providing information on weeds, pests and diseases of barley (and other cereal crops) can be found on the ‘Resources’ page on the Grains Research and Development Corporation website.

Infrastructure Requirements

Large scale agricultural machinery, including tractors, cultivation equipment, seeder/disc drills, boom sprayers, combine harvesters (headers), chaser bins and grain trucks, will be required for a successful barley enterprise. Some or all of the operations required to produce a barley crop can be carried out by contractors, which may alleviate some capital investment in the significant amount of plant required for crop production. Grain silos will be required if barley is to be stored on farm for any period.

Harvesting & Processing

Barley is generally harvested from October to December, using a combine harvester. Mature barley does not withstand weather damage, therefore it is important not to delay harvest.

After harvest, barley is usually delivered directly to receival points owned and run by grain marketing companies. However, some growers may sell directly to a malthouse (and deliver to their aggregation points) or sell and deliver directly to livestock farmers; or a combination of these. Growers may also keep some grain on farm as a feedstock for their own livestock.

If growing malting barley, it is critical to ensure that post-harvest it is stored in an aerated, insect free environment. The grain must germinate at a minimum rate of 95% to be suitable for malting and these rates can be affected by temperature, moisture and insect infestation. Any grains failing to germinate during malting will contribute to poor malt quality and brewing problems. If possible, barley grain should be stored between 10 and 20°C—temperatures higher than this (particularly over 30°C) will affect germination and malt quality. The moisture of grain in storage will affect its quality over time and it is recommended that barley be stored below 12% moisture content. The malting and brewing markets for Australian Barley are very traditional and if considering growing new varieties, it is important to note that for new barley varieties to be accepted into these markets there is a long lead time. History shows that the largest buyers of malt barley will be slow to react to new varieties before making any significant changes in their purchasing of Malt Barley.

Markets for feed barley are far more flexible, with the primary quality characteristics being grain plumpness, grain protein and grain test weight.  Grain should also be free of contaminants (weed seeds, other grains).

Chemical residues in barley can cause problems in some markets, so any proposed treatment for an insect infestation should be carefully considered and an agronomist or adviser consulted prior to fumigation.

Contracting with a grain marketer to deliver all barley harvested is the most common way for growers to manage the sale of grain. Information about grain marketers can be found online or through agricultural newspapers. To further understand the post-harvest grain supply chain, Grain Trade Australia provides useful information on contracts and vendor declarations, including samples,  templates and quality specifications.

Markets and Marketing

Barley production is well established in Australia with annual production averaging around seven million tonnes. As such, there are well-established markets and mechanisms for selling and marketing barley in Australia.

Growers have a number of options when choosing to sell their barley. They can forward contract the grain to a marketer, accept the best cash price at the time of harvest or after storage, or deliver to a grain pool, run by a marketer. Growers may also choose to sell grain directly to livestock farmers or malthouses and may also choose to keep some grain on farm as a feedstock for their own livestock.

The Australian barley industry consists of malting and feed stock sectors, which are then divided into domestic and export markets. All have different requirements and quality specifications. Identifying the option that will lead to the greatest return for growers is complex. For example, the price premium paid for malting barley may more than offset their generally lower yield rates. But sometimes even at lower prices, higher yielding feed grade varieties may offer the best return, particularly as they don’t attract as much risk associated with achieving malting quality.

Domestically, the demand for malting barley is around one million tonnes per year and Australian domestic feed use is around two million tonnes each year. The remaining Australian production, equating to approximately 60% of production, is exported to countries in Asia and the Middle East.

It is recommended that new producers research the market that best suits their geographic location and risk profile before planting a crop. Malting barley is subject to a range of stringent growing and storage specifications, so it is important to understand which malting varieties can be stored and marketed in each region.

Australian brewers maintain close links into the barley industry through their representative body Barley Australia, which aims to coordinate production and sends market signals to growers in relation to theirpreferred varieties for malting.

As at December 2013, feed barley in Western Australia was trading around AU$220–230 per tonne and malting barley was priced around AU$280–290 per tonne. Daily barley prices can be sourced online, through services like Elders Daily Grain Prices, from the grower’s preferred marketer or agricultural newspapers.

Risks and Regulations

Risks/challenges

As with all agricultural pursuits, risk is inherent in barley cropping and specific risks include:

  • the crop failing to establish, tiller or mature properly due to adverse weather events, thus resulting in reduced harvest tonnage and/or poor quality grain
  • commodity prices falling during the growth period impacting on the returns projected at planting
  • growing malting varieties that do not meet market specifications, thereby reducing the quality to feed grade
  • ·not recouping the costs of inputs and capital invested in the crop, like fertiliser or the costs of running large equipment, if the crop fails.

Identifying the option that will lead to the greatest return for growers is complex. For example, the price premium paid for malting barley may more than offset the generally lower yields of malting barley. But sometimes even at lower prices, higher-yielding feed grade varieties may offer the best return, particularly as they don’t attract as much risk as associated with achieving malting quality.

One strategy to spread the risk is to grow a combination of malting and feed barley. However, growers should contact grain marketers to understand the malting market prior to planting. Malting barley is subject to a range of stringent growing and storage specifications, so it is important to understand which malting varieties can be stored and marketed in each region.

Regulatory considerations

Apart from the regulatory considerations that apply to all Australian grain farms, including laws applying to chemical use and management, occupational health and safety and transport (including machinery movements and the loading/unloading of harvested grain), there are no regulations that are specific to barley operations. More information about laws and regulations affecting barley growers (and grain growers generally) can be obtained from the relevant government authority. Information and advice can also be sought from the relevant state farming organisation, some of which are listed on the National Farmers’ Federation website or Grain Producers Australia.

Publications

Publications/ information products

Barley Variety Sowing Guide – South Australia 2014

Barley Winter Crop Summary 2013 – Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries

Barley Variety Sowing Guide – Western Australia 2013

Barley planting, nutrition and harvesting – Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Barley planting and disease guide 2013 QLD and NNSW – Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Fact Sheet – Barley Growing in Tasmania – Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water 2012

Barley Growth and Development – NSW Department of Primary Industries 2010

Barley variety update 2013 – Grains Research and Development Corporation

Fact sheet: Managing Frost – Minimising Damage – Grains Research and Development Corporation

Other resources

National Variety Trials – provides access to independent results on the performance of recently released grain and field crop varieties

Grain Trade Australia – GTA works to ensure the efficient facilitation of commercial activities across the grain supply chain.

WA Farmers Federation

NSW Farmers

Victorian Farmers Federation

Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association

Agforce (Queensland)

National Farmers Federation

Industry Bodies

Barley Australia – an independent, not-for-profit industry organisation that aims to improve communication and coordination between the barley industry and its consumers as well as managing a national accreditation scheme and quality assurance system.

Grain Producers Australia – GPA represents Australia’s broadacre, grain, pulse and oilseed producers at the national level.

GrainGrowers – a grain producer group focused on an efficient, sustainable and profitable grains industry for all Australian grain producers.

Grains Research and Development Corporation – Through investment of R&D levies on grain production, GRDC conducts research and produces a wide range of fact sheets, publications, apps and web documents to assist Australian grain growers.

Grain Industry Association of Western Australia

Grain Producers South Australia

Image Gallery

Field of barley

Harvesting barley

Barley grain for goat feed

Barley ripening in Western Australia (source ABC Australia)

Yellow Dwarf Virus on barley folliage