CMBTC Update – Malting Barley Harvest Ideas 2020

August 14, 2020

Western Canada is poised to harvest a large grain crop with most areas of the Prairies having received sufficient moisture this growing season. While some pockets have been too dry, most of the grain growing regions have received sufficient to excess amounts of moisture this season.  As harvest begins, the CMBTC has some considerations for producers of malting barley to help ensure their barley has the highest changes of selection as malt.

Use of Glyphosate, Desiccants on Malting Barley in Canada

Selectors and buyers of malting barley in Canada require that barley must not have been treated with pre-harvest desiccants, in an effort to uniformly dry the crop, or glyphosate products for controlling perennial weeds. Contracts with growers generally state that malting barley shall not have been treated with desiccants or other products such as glyphosate or saflufenacil.  Use of these products is not accepted by the malting barley industry in Canada due to the potential for compromised quality such as a reduction in germination capacity, reduced kernel size and lower test weight.

In Canada, the “Keep it Clean” program provides farmers with guidance on the proper use of crop protection products. The following statement is provided on the Keep it Clean  web site: Malt Barley – Glyphosate (i.e. Roundup), Saflufenacil (i.e. Heat) will not be accepted by grain buyers if treated pre-harvest.

Many Western Canadian buyers and selectors have technical staff to aid farmers with management decisions on how to achieve premium malt quality without using glyphosate, saflufenacil or desiccants, by applying specific practices such as early seeding, manipulating plant population to reduce tillering and increase uniformity, use of swathing, and choosing correct genetics for a specific growing area.  The can also provide guidance of how to dry down malting barley after harvest (see also below).

Drying & Storage of Malting Barley

With many areas experiencing higher than average precipitation this season, malting barley may come off with higher levels of moisture in some regions. As a result, an important consideration for farmers with malting barley will be drying and proper storing and monitoring of the grain to ensure quality does not deteriorate.  Generally speaking barley should be dried down to 13.5% moisture for storage or delivery into the system. If your barley has excess moisture levels (i.e. above 13.5%), it is at risk of heating, loss of germination and other issues such as mold and mildew during storage.  

How to dry your malting barley

  • If your moisture level is >13.5%, you should endeavour to bring the grain moisture down.
  • Do not store malt barley @ >14.5% moisture for prolonged periods of time. Fungi and bacteria grow more quickly on higher moisture grain.
  • In some circumstances, moisture will need to be removed from barley using driers.  The basic rule with malting barley is “low and slow” with air temperatures not exceeding 68C and grain temperatures not exceeding 42C.
  • Do not aerate when foggy or raining as moisture will accumulate on the surface of the grain potentially causing spoilage organisms to proliferate

Monitoring your barley after storage

The industry standard for germination energy in malting barley is minimum 95%, and good storage conditions can help maintain malting barley vigour. Heating, mold and mildew can also lead to barley being rejected for selection as malt.  Here are some tips to keep your barley in condition:

  • Run your aeration fans on cold days to cool (and eventually freeze) your bins. Cool and dry grain has greatly improved shelf life.
  • If air/heat is not possible in the bin to dry the grain, you may need to remove all or part of the grain from your bin to dry it, or at least cool it down, before putting it back in the bin.
  • Check your bin tops for moisture migration. A small bit of tough barley can ultimately spoil the whole bin if not addressed.
  • If you have concerns, you can submit a sample to your local malting barley buyer to check the germination level of your barley.