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Idaho breeder seeks to bring fall barley to new region

The barley breeder at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Aberdeen is seeking to find a winter barley line for growers near Idaho Falls and better spring lines for the Tetonia area.

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

Published on October 31, 2013 11:00AM

Gongshe Hu, barley breeder with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Aberdeen, Idaho, discusses barley breeding efforts in his facility’s barley seed bank.

John O’Connell/Capital Press

Gongshe Hu, barley breeder with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Aberdeen, Idaho, discusses barley breeding efforts in his facility’s barley seed bank.

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ABERDEEN, Idaho — Idaho barley breeder Gongshe Hu is expanding his program to find barley lines suitable for fall planting in the cold climate near Idaho Falls, as well as spring lines better adapted to high elevations near Tetonia.

This fall, Hu, with the USDA’s Aberdeen Agricultural Research Service, started a new irrigated fall barley test plot in Idaho Falls, partnering with a local farmer.

In his effort to introduce fall barley to new growing areas, he’s supplemented his own program’s germ plasm with cold-tolerant material from Germany, Minnesota and elsewhere.

“It has a higher yield,” Hu said of fall-planted barley. “We think (fall) barley has the market.”

Hu also has fall barley plots on dry land in Soda Springs — a cold, high-elevation climate — and in milder southern Idaho climates in Filer and Aberdeen. Hu said he’s tested for winter hardiness for the past two years in Soda Springs but had sparse data this season due to poor dry-land germination.

Hu expects to release a new fall malting barley variety within three years to replace the industry standard, Charles. He’s been working closely with the American Malting Barley Association, which has recommended three elite fall barley lines for more in-depth field testing. All three cultivars proved to possess better winter hardiness than Charles and had about 10 percent higher yields in 2012 dry-land trials in Soda Springs, though Hu cautioned many more years of data are needed to draw solid conclusions. The three varieties will be tested at the new plot in Idaho Falls.

“In the fall of 2014, we will propagate them again at a large scale,” Hu said.

Brett Jensen, who farms in the Osgood area near Idaho Falls, experimented with Charles about five years ago and hasn’t planted fall barley since due to the poor survival.

“It was a little more sensitive to the cold spring mornings,” he said, adding he’d be interested in trying fall barley again if Hu’s research turns up a better option.

Bonneville County Grain Growers President Matt Gellings said he’d welcome fall barley as another option.

“You keep hearing about those great big yields on that winter barley, and we’ve tried it around here and it just hasn’t worked,” Gellings said. “If I saw some good test results, I’d give it a shot.”

Hu also plans to expand barley planting in plots at the University of Idaho’s Tetonia Research and Extension Center. Data from the center has been averaged with data from other nurseries in the past. Going forward, Hu intends to present the Tetonia spring barley data separately to show area growers varieties that may be well suited for their conditions.

Idaho Barley Commissioner Dwight Little, of Teton, said fields at that elevation take much longer to mature.

“These new varieties are usually tested in areas where barley growth is pretty easy,” Little said.

Little also has sizable commercial malt barley research plots on his farm to find the best new varieties for his area. Some of the commercial experimental lines he tested this season showed increased yields of up to 20 bushels per acre.


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