An Alberta Scientist is Playing a Key Role in a First-of-its-Kind Barley Agronomy Research Program

by | Mar 4, 2024 | Agronomy, Barley, News, Plant Breeding

GrowBarley will take the crop to new heights as modern varieties need a solid agronomy package.

Big things are  happening in barley research.

With the announcement of GrowBarley, an agronomy research program that could be the first of its kind, Canada’s barley sector is taking a big step forward. The initiative, spearheaded by the Brewing and Malting Barley Research Institute (BMBRI), the Canadian Barley Research Coalition (CBRC) and the western Canadian barley commissions, promises to help revolutionize barley research and development, organizers say.

GrowBarley was the brainchild of Mitchell Japp, research and extension manager for SaskBarley. It was started out of a pressing need identified within the barley industry — a need to push agronomy forward.

“Over time, we noticed a significant leap in genetic potential among barley varieties emerging from breeding programs compared to the dominant ones like Copeland and Metcalfe. This shift is evident in the synergies observed in varieties and acreage numbers this year,” Japp said in an interviewing during the 2024 Barley Symposium in Saskatoon, Sask., last month.

“It’s promising to witness a transition towards newer varieties with enhanced traits such as higher yield potential, lower protein content, improved lodging resistance and better disease resistance.”

However, simply treating these new varieties like their predecessors wouldn’t do justice to their full potential, he says. That’s where the importance of an advanced agronomy package comes into play.

Hiroshi Kubota of AAFC Lacombe will spearhead the research for the GrowBarley program.

“Without proper management tailored to these newer genetics, we risk not fully harnessing their capabilities.”

This realization led to the creation of GrowBarley, dedicated to advancing agronomic research specifically tailored to the disparities within barley cultivation.

“By addressing these needs, we aim to ensure that barley remains competitive alongside other crop types in the agricultural landscape,” Japp says.

Gina Feist, executive director of BMBRI, is thrilled about this development in research funding. The commitment of $1.5 million over seven years from the western Canadian barley commissions — SaskBarley, Alberta Grains, Manitoba Crop Alliance — along with support from CBRC and BMBRI, is truly remarkable, she says.

“Such long-term commitments are rare in our industry, and they provide much-needed stability and support for impactful research initiatives,” she says.

AAFC Lacombe research scientist Hiroshi Kubota will collaborate closely with the steering committee, ensuring that his research is not only relevant but also swiftly adopted by producers and end users.

“This level of collaboration and long-term investment presents a unique opportunity that is seldom seen in our field,” Feist adds.

However, challenges persist, notably in maintaining barley as a profitable crop amidst competition from wheat and canola. Extreme weather conditions also pose a threat, underscoring the importance of ongoing research efforts, she adds.

Looking ahead, Feist envisions a future for barley driven by innovation, with advancements in genomics, microbiome research, and precision agriculture poised to transform the industry.


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