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Colored Barley Research in the Skagit Valley

Brigid Meints1, Brook Brouwer1, Colin Curwin-McAdams1, Steve Lyon1, Patrick Hayes2, Stephen Jones1NW Research and Extension Center, Washington State University, Mount Vernon, WA 98273 2Crop and Soil Science Department, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331

Colored barley has been grown as human food for millennia in many parts of the world, but feed and malting barley with a white seed-coat have dominated the commodity market. In northwestern Washington, growers are interested in colored barley for the non-commodity market.

Blue, purple, and black seed coats in barley are found predominately in landraces from areas of the world where barley remains a staple crop; these regions include the Himalayas, Ethiopia, and the Andes. These lines are not well adapted for the maritime climate of the Skagit Valley and so it is necessary to introgress the color traits into adapted material. Breeding and selecting barley varieties with unique color traits will bring recognition and distinction to grains grown in this region and the quality characteristics will make them desirable to bakers, chefs, brewers, consumers and companies looking to create unique products with grain.

Through this work we are seeking to create nutritionally superior barley lines with excellent baking and malting quality that are immediately recognizable by their color.  It has been shown that purple and blue lines contain anthocyanins and black lines contain melanin, contributing to the antioxidant properties of the grain. Because the genes regulating the blue, black, and purple color traits are distinct and the colors exist in separate layers it is possible to stack these traits for increased phenolic content.

Growers and consumers have shown interest in colored barley, but there are few lines adapted to this area. Skagit Valley Malting Company has expressed interest in malting and brewing with colored grains. They have successfully malted a variety of purple barley and subsequently brewed a beer with interesting and novel flavors. This interest gives growers in our region a market for these unique grains, allows them to negotiate on price, and keeps the value in the local economy.

We requested and received 47 accessions of colored barley from the National Small Grains Germplasm Collection in Aberdeen, ID to use as parents in a crossing block. Successful F1 see from those crosses is currently being increased to begin selection. Additionally, we have colored barley breeding lines from Oregon State University that are currently in the F2 and F3 stages and several black F6 lines that were planted in a multi-location preliminary yield trial. Selections will be made in the field based on yield and agronomic performance (test weight, height, heading date) and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses (lodging, weed competition, and a range of fungal diseases). After harvest, we will look at a number of quality and nutrition traits.

Colored barley spikes and kernels in the greenhouse and in the field. 2015
Colored barley spikes and kernels in the greenhouse and in the field. 2015