Bar­ley as a crop 

Bar­ley is thought to be the first type of cere­al to have been grown as a crop, mak­ing it one of the old­est ever crops. Bar­ley was grown as far back as around 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. It orig­i­nates from the Mid­dle East and Mediter­ranean region. Bar­ley is also the first crop in the sequence to be har­vest­ed. Depend­ing on the weath­er con­di­tions, it is har­vest­ed in Europe in mid to late June. When the mois­ture con­tent drops below 14 per­cent, bar­ley can be gath­ered in from the field. Its ear­ly har­vest­ing and sow­ing times mean that bar­ley can be used to take the edge off peak work­loads in crop pro­duc­tion. Its ear­ly tim­ing also allows suf­fi­cient time to till the field after­wards and sow the next crop. Due to its phy­tomed­i­c­i­nal prop­er­ties and min­i­mal require­ments for its loca­tion, bar­ley is often the last cere­al in the crop rota­tion on good soils. A crop and seed plan­ning soft­ware appli­ca­tion is rec­om­mend­ed to ensure good crop management.

Spring and win­ter bar­ley vari­eties have dif­fer­ent demands on their loca­tion. Spring bar­ley requires approx­i­mate­ly 95 days to mature and can also be grown in cool­er regions. Win­ter bar­ley, on the oth­er hand, needs high­er tem­per­a­tures and has a growth peri­od of approx­i­mate­ly 270 days. Both vari­eties can be dis­tin­guished by their dif­fer­ent ears. The grains are arranged in either two, four or six rows. Spring bar­ley has pre­dom­i­nant­ly two rows, while win­ter bar­ley has most­ly four. It is also the most com­mon­ly grown due to it being high in pro­tein and there­fore very well suit­ed to feed pro­duc­tion. Spring bar­ley con­tains more car­bo­hy­drates, which makes it appeal to brew­eries and dis­til­leries. Bar­ley also con­tains a high pro­por­tion of cel­lu­lose since its grains are formed with husks. As a food grain, how­ev­er, bar­ley has large­ly been for­got­ten in Europe. Its main grow­ing areas include France, Ger­many, Spain, Den­mark and Poland. Over the past few years, the cul­ti­va­tion of bar­ley in Europe over­all has been in decline.

Grow­ing con­di­tions and varieties 

Bar­ley places min­i­mal demands on the soil con­di­tions, which makes it a good choice even for unfavourable loca­tions. It even grows in places that would be com­plete­ly unsuit­able for oth­er types of grain. For exam­ple, bar­ley can be grown on salty soils in dry, hot steppes, on the high­est moun­tains of Tibet and north of the Arc­tic Circle.
In Europe, good con­di­tions can be found when the soil val­ue is 30 or above, accord­ing to the Ger­man sys­tem. In this case, the yields are high­er than those obtained from wheat or rye. In good loca­tions, how­ev­er, bar­ley often per­forms com­par­a­tive­ly worse. Due to its low-main­te­nance nature, bar­ley is the most wide­spread around the world and can be found on all con­ti­nents. Bar­ley is slight­ly less win­ter-hardy than oth­er types of cere­al. Loca­tions that are prone to freez­ing are there­fore not suit­able for win­ter bar­ley due to the high risk of win­ter killing. Its strong autumn devel­op­ment and ear­ly mat­u­ra­tion pro­vide excel­lent pro­tec­tion for win­ter bar­ley against droughts in spring and ear­ly sum­mer, which guar­an­tees more secure yields in dry years.
Vari­eties with two or more rows of grains as well as hybrid vari­eties are avail­able for win­ter bar­ley. Vari­eties with mul­ti­ple rows pro­duce more sta­ble yields on aver­age and there­fore have a greater yield poten­tial. Two-row vari­eties gen­er­al­ly have a low­er yield per­for­mance. How­ev­er, breed­ing suc­cess­es have led to this gap becom­ing ever small­er. In unfavourable envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, two-row vari­eties are supe­ri­or to mul­ti-row vari­eties in hec­tolitre weight, grain size and thou­sand grain weight. As such, two-row bar­ley is more suit­ed to low-per­for­mance loca­tions. Hybrid vari­eties of bar­ley are cur­rent­ly only avail­able as mul­ti-row vari­eties that boast high­er yields com­pared to con­ven­tion­al vari­eties. They are also much more sta­ble in their yields and require less plant pro­tec­tion when man­aged well. In con­trast, the cost of the seed is much high­er. For this rea­son, the cul­ti­va­tion goal should be tak­en into account when choos­ing a variety.
The main mark of qual­i­ty in bar­ley is its hec­tolitre weight. Raw pro­tein con­tent is not tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion when set­ting the price. As such, these fig­ures only add val­ue when the bar­ley is used for inter­nal pur­pos­es in pro­cess­ing oper­a­tions. Fer­til­i­sa­tion varies depend­ing on the pro­duc­tion goal and its asso­ci­at­ed lev­el of nutri­ent removal. Win­ter feed bar­ley has a high­er pro­por­tion of crude pro­tein in the grain and requires more nitro­gen than win­ter malt­ing bar­ley. It is worth­while tak­ing soil sam­ples to deter­mine the nitro­gen lev­el. Light, sandy soils should also be sup­plied with an ade­quate amount of sulphur.


Use of barley 

In Europe, bar­ley is main­ly used as a feed grain. Win­ter bar­ley, for exam­ple, con­tains a espe­cial­ly large amount of pro­tein (12 to 15 per­cent). Spring bar­ley, on the oth­er hand, is rich is car­bo­hy­drates (60 to 65 per­cent) and as such, is main­ly used to pro­duce beer. Bar­ley can also be processed in dis­til­leries to pro­duce whisky and grain brandy. In coun­tries with good grow­ing con­di­tions, bar­ley is used at most as an admix­ture in bread pro­duc­tion since it does not con­tain gluten. In parts of the world where the grow­ing con­di­tions are dif­fi­cult, bar­ley is key source of nutri­tion because it can be used for pearl bar­ley, groats and soups. Bar­ley is also used to pro­duce cof­fee sub­sti­tutes, by roast­ing and grind­ing the malt­ed grains.
Due to its low-main­te­nance, ver­sa­tile nature, bar­ley forms an inte­gral part of arable crop rotations.

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