Barley is the fourth most widely cultivated cereal species in the world and is the most widely cultivated cereal species in Norway. It is grown on about 45% of the land utilised for Norwegian cereal production. Almost all barley grown in Norway is used in animal feed production.

The barley species is easily recognizable because of the long awns that protrude from each grain. The seeds are edible and are used for human consumption, feed for animals and malt for beer and liquor production. The species is divided into the two subspecies: six-row barley and two-row barley.

Two-row barley has one large and two smaller sterile seeds in each small axil, while six-row barley has three smaller seeds in each. Two-row barley usually ripens later than six-row barley but is hardier and tends to have a higher yield potential. The names come from how the seeds are placed on the plant. Two-row barley has the seeds placed in two rows with adjacent seeds, while six-row barley has six rows of seeds going around the spike.

Graminor’s barley breeding and variety representation

Until 2013 Graminor focused only on breeding new varieties of six-row barley. In 2013 the company started breeding new varieties of two-row barley for the Nordic climate. Plant breeding is a long process that takes many years, and it is hoped to make the first variety from Graminor’s two-row barley breeding program available in the next few years.

In 2020 the Norwegian barley market consisted of 55% six-row barley. Of this, 96% of the six-row barley grown in Norway in 2020 was from varieties developed by Graminor.

Field trials with the variety Rødhette

Graminor’s barley breeding program is based on the traditional pedigree method of line selection. Lines with desired traits are selected and crossed to create variety. Throughout the following generations the lines that provide the traits wanted in a new variety are selected, while lines that show undesired or weak traits are rejected.

The agronomic traits and crop yield are observed in field trials, and analyses of quality traits is undertaken in Graminor’s laboratories. The combined measurements and tests allow for selection of the best lines that can become future Norwegian barley varieties with better yield, that ripen at the right time, and that have stronger disease resistance than currently existing varieties.

Graminor utilises new technological methods in combination with the traditional pedigree method, to create even better potential varieties for the future, and to make the breeding process more effective. Among these technologies and techniques, we use marker assisted selection (MAS). MAS is a molecular biological method that is based on genotyping and used for the mapping of genes.

MAS is used to make better and more effective choices about which lines continue in the development and selection process. The method involves finding the genes that show that a variety, for example, is strong against a specific disease. If these genes, which are called markers, are found, then the varieties showing least resistance can be selected out at an early stage. Previously, it was necessary to leave all the varieties out in the field for several seasons and hope for the spread of disease to see which ones were strong and which ones were weak, now it is possible to do a lot of this work with a test.

In addition to breeding our own barley varieties, Graminor also represent foreign barley varieties in Norway. This allows us to always present the Norwegian farmer with the best varieties for their needs.

Main goals for new barley varieties:

  • High yield
  • Good straw strength and straw quality
  • Resistance to fungal diseases
  • Early ripening

Meet the barley team

Tom Arnesen, research technichian