Building Better Barley

Steven E. Ullrich
Building Better Barley

Barley on the Palouse

Barley is an ancient cereal grain, originating in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, Barley is an ancient cereal grain, originating in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, and is one of the first crops to be domesticated 10,000 years ago. Its scientific name, Hordeum, refers to Roman gladiators and means “barley eater”. Barley is widely grown today and is among the top five crops produced worldwide. It is a major crop in the United States, the Pacific Northwest, and Washington state. The annual value of barley from farm gate to end user is over $180 billion nationally, and the farm gate value alone in Washington State is about $40 million annually.

Barley is known in various cultures as an animal feed, brewing, and/or food grain. The use of barley for all of these purposes predates agriculture and is an important factor in barley improvement today. The WSU Barley Improvement program emphasizes grain and forage end use quality, as well as adaptation and agronomic performance. It is a collaborative program led by Dr. Steve Ullrich and includes molecular geneticists, cereal chemists, plant pathologists, entomologists, and agronomists. The breeding program actively works on cultivar development, emphasizing spring two-row malting, food, and feed grain types. The release of improved cultivars provides the opportunity for increased production, uses, and/or market value to growers, processors, and end users. Growers are currently adopting two new cultivars ranked 2nd (Bob) and fourth (Radiant) in acreage in 2009/2010 with improved grain quality, stripe rust, Hessian fly, and/or lodging resistances. Hulless, waxy, and reduced phenol types are bred to enhance the quality of barley for processing and food use in anticipation of increased demand due to a recent FDA health benefit endorsement of food containing barley.

Genetics research is an integral part of the barley program to ultimately enhance breeding for critical traits. Molecular genetic analysis of complex traits such as malting and nutritional quality, seed dormancy, and preharvest sprouting has brought international recognition to the program. Information and genetic stocks generated have been used in collaborative studies in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, United Kingdom, and several universities in the USA. Research support has come from federal sources; USDA-NRI, USDA-CSREES-Barley Genome Project, USDA-CAP, and national and state industry and grower organizations. Genetic understanding of complexly inherited, economically important traits lays the foundation for barley improvement through molecular breeding techniques.


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Contact Information
Steven E. Ullrich, Ph.D.
Professor and Scientist
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences

Washington State University
PO Box 646420
Johnson Hall 273
Pullman, WA 99164-6420

Telephone: 509-335-4936
Fax: 509-335-8674