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To brew or not to brew

CASSELTON, N.D. - A new variety of two-rowed barley has been developed and released by the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station, fermenting growers' hopes of a better, more resilient barley variety to put into their fields.

CASSELTON, N.D. - A new variety of two-rowed barley has been developed and released by the North Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station, fermenting growers' hopes of a better, more resilient barley variety to put into their fields.

Named Pinnacle, it has been in development for eight years, and this year enters its final season of pilot scale testing.

"This is a barley with a lot of potential," says Richard Horsley, North Dakota State University barley breeder and plant geneticist. "It provides higher yield, higher quality and is more resistant."

Strengths of Pinnacle

Based on four years of trials in North Dakota by the NDSU barley breeding program, Pinnacle has a 15 percent yield advantage over Conlon, North Dakota's leading two-row barley.

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"It delivers a more consistent yield than Conlon, even if a grower grows it for feed, though we'd like to see it grown it for malting," Horsley says.

Compared with Conlon, Pinnacle has lower protein and a higher percentage of plump kernels. The rest of its malting characteristics are similar to Conlon, which is accepted by the malting and brewing industry.

If Pinnacle is accepted by the industry as a malting variety, it is expected to replace almost all the acreage of Conlon, NDSU researchers say.

"Pinnacle is expected to have a significant economic impact on the state's barley industry because of its significant yield advantage, increased plumpness and reduced protein compared with Conlon."

Currently, only Miller Brewing Co. brews with the Conlon variety grown in North Dakota fields.

Pinnacle has barley parentage of mostly experimental lines, but includes Logan and Foster in its early ancestry. The original cross was made in 1999 by Jerry Franckowiak, a former NDSU two-row barley breeder.

"The importance of Logan and Foster lines is that they bring in the low-protein characteristics, which brewers prefer," Horsley says.

Resistance

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"Pinnacle has a white hull, smooth awns and long rachilla hair," NDSU barley plant pathologist Stephen Neate says. "Pinnacle has greater resistance to spot blotch than Conlon and approaches that of Lacey and Drummond, which are six-rowed varieties."

Spot blotch is more common in eastern North Dakota, allowing Pinnacle to be grown further east than Conlon.

Fusarium head blight resistance, measured as a percent of infected kernels, is slightly less than that of Conlon, Neate adds, while the deoxynivalenol level is slightly higher.

The AMBA hurdle

"Most barley takes about 10 years to get from crossing to release," Horsley says. "We do a lot of testing for yield in different environments and look at its potential for malting."

About 90 percent of varieties seeded in North Dakota are recommended by the American Malting Barley Association. Barley varieties must be accepted onto the AMBA's list to be sold at a premium as malting barley.

AMBA utilizes an early-generation malting quality evaluation program for barley breeders and basic malting quality research at the USDA-ARS Cereal Crops Research Unit in Madison, Wis. Early- generation testing at the Cereal Crops Research Unit is followed by pilot-scale malting and brewing evaluations of more advanced lines by AMBA members.

Selections that show promise after two or three years of pilot-scale evaluation may be advanced to plant-scale evaluation. AMBA and/or member companies contract the production of new selections, which are malted by a member maltster and distributed among member brewing companies for testing in actual plant-scale production of beer. Satisfactory results from plant-scale evaluation are required before a variety is recommended for malting and brewing by AMBA.

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Roughly 12 different varieties of barley are in pilot-scale testing each year.

"There are three major (development) programs," Horsley says. "One is at the University of Minnesota, one at NDSU and the other at Busch Agricultural Resources," a program in Fort Collins, Colo.

Pinnacle now is in its third and final year of pilot-scale testing. It must be given a satisfactory score in two out of the three years to be accepted for brewing. The first year, it was given a "satisfactory," but it got an "unsatisfactory" the second year.

"I was surprised that there was an" unsatisfactory there, NDSU plant sciences director Dale Williams says. "It has a lot of the different attributes that you think they want, including real low protein. But I am very optimistic. We're already planning the carlot testing."

Plant-scale testing

Typically, only three or four barleys make it to plant-scale testing each year. In it, 20,000 to 30,000 bushels of the barley plants are produced for evaluation.

"I'm hopeful that we'll get a satisfactory," Williams says. "My function is to provide seed produced at NDSU. We already had (Pinnacle) scheduled for production at Hettinger and Williston."

Results will come April 2008.

"We are going ahead with necessary plans this summer for plant-scale testing. We're producing enough (seed stock) this summer for 200 to 300 acres of Pinnacle," he says.

Barley as a feed

"Malting barley carries a plus. You can get a premium, but there is a certain amount of people that do like it as a feed," Horsley says. "We've had several calls from people that were interested in feed barleys for their livestock, like hogs. There's also the realization that things are changing."

With the emergence of the ethanol industry, corn prices have skyrocketed, making alternate feeds more attractive to livestock producers.

"Barley also has some distinct advantages in drought hardiness," he says. "This barley would be more attractive to growers in western North Dakota, where you can have that stress."

According to research, it heads out about three days later than Conlon, but has greater straw strength, approaching that of the strongest six-row varieties.

Once accepted, Pinnacle will be allocated through the County Crop Improvement Association in spring 2008. The NDSU Research Foundation will apply for plant variety protection with Title V and assess research fees of 25 cents per bushel on registered and certified seed.

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