Barley Varieties & Production with Kevin Murphy

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Show Notes & Resources Mentioned:

Contact Information:

Contact Kevin Murphy via email at

View Kevin’s Crop & Soil Science faculty page

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Episode Transcription:

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Drew Lyon: Hello, and welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. We have weekly discussions with researchers from WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast, do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. And leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guest today is Kevin Murphy. Kevin is the barley and alternative crop breeder in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. His barley breeding program focuses on the development of spring barley varieties in the food, feed, and malt market classes. Today, he will be talking about two newly-released WSU food barley varieties and the potential for food barley production on the Palouse. Hello, Kevin.

Kevin Murphy: Hi, Drew.

Drew Lyon: So tell us what makes a food barley a food barley. Why is it different than any other barley?

Kevin Murphy: Okay, so, as you mentioned, there are four classes actually of barley. There’s food, malt, and feed – which we all work on – and forage as well, which we don’t have a program on. Food barley is different because it is any food barley or any barley that’s really developed for human consumption. So in the past, it’s all been hulled barley, but now we’re focusing on a hulless barley type for food consumption, and we do that for several reasons. One is a hulled barley needs to have its bran, well, it needs to have the hull removed, and oftentimes that’s a very aggressive procedure called pearling, which can remove the bran as well. And the bran is a very nutrient-dense part of the barley grain, so there’s B vitamins, there’s fiber, there’s micronutrients, there’s trace minerals in there that are all really important to the overall nutritional value of barley. So if we can keep that in because, again, this is for humans — we want it to be as nutritionally sound as possible. So, yeah. So we make sure it’s hulless. Another trait that we look for is beta glucan content. So beta glucan is a dietary fiber approved by the FDA that we can now label barley as a heart-healthy crop. So it’s similar to oats in that way. So both have high levels of beta glucan. In our case, through our breeding, we try and elevate the level of beta glucan in our barley. And then, finally, to be labeled as a whole grain, that bran layer actually has to be intact as part of the grain. So if it’s removed through pearling, then it can’t be labeled as a whole grain anymore, so we want the label, we want the nutrition, and we want the high beta glucan content.

Drew Lyon: Okay. And how did you find these hulless-type barleys? Are they something that has always been there, or did you have to develop these on your own?

Kevin Murphy: No, they’ve always been there. Luckily, we didn’t start from scratch. So they have been there, but the varieties, the hulless varieties have not really been a part of any major breeding program worldwide for a long time. And so even though they were there, they still required a lot of improvement to be well adapted to our Eastern Washington Palouse dryland farming systems.

Drew Lyon: Okay, so why don’t you tell us about your two new food barley varieties and how they help address the anticipated market needs?

Kevin Murphy: Okay, so the first barley we released about three years ago. It’s called Havener. That was our first food barley. It is hulless. It’s a two-row spring barley. And it has about 6% beta glucan content, so you can compare that to maybe 3, even up to 4% for the feed barley. So it’s about 50 to 60% higher beta glucan. Our next food barley that we released is called Meg’s Song, and that was released last year. That has 7.5% beta glucan content. So that’s about 100% higher than most feed barleys. An interesting fact is we typically, when we eat barley, like if we go buy barley from the store, it’s often pearled feed barley, so that’s what we’re trying to beat or trying to change is the idea that we’re developing these barley varieties specifically for human consumption. So they have higher beta glucan content, and they also have about 400 to 600 pounds an acre, higher yield than the previous hulless type that was available for this region, Meresse. So they’re quite high yielding, and that’s something we need to address further as well, but they’re a good bit higher yielding than the other hulless types. If you’re a grower, Meg’s Song does have one benefit over Havener, and that is that it lodges less frequently. It’s very resistant to lodging. They both grow really well in dryland systems, but where they really differ is in their end-use quality traits. So Havener typically has much higher test weight. It’s maybe 10 pounds higher test weight than the feed barleys and usually 3 pounds higher test weight than Meg’s Song. Meg’s Song, on the other hand, has 1 to 2% higher protein than Havener. So they have very different qualities that way. And then, we’ve worked with bakers to bake loaves of bread with 40 to 50% barley and 50% wheat. We also work with them to develop different, like, well, different end-use products. And when you bake the two varieties side by side, the Havener imparts a really nice, beautiful, lustrous yellow color to the crumb of the bread. So it’s really nice. And then, the Meg’s Song has a much more subtle blue-gray tint to the bread. So they’re different in that way as well.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So what’s driving the market — are you trying to push this on the market — in other words, provide these things for health benefits and hoping the market takes it on, or are they coming to you and saying, we want these food barleys? We have some need for it, and we’d like to see it bred?

Kevin Murphy: Yeah. So more of the latter. We’re being asked for these. We’ve been asked for these for several years. And the main reason is the prices of feed barley are so low for several different reasons that farmers have a very difficult time making money just growing feed barley. Feed barley is grown on about 90% of the barley acreage in Washington State. Most of the rest is grown for malt, but malt is oftentimes, even though farmers do get a higher price for malt barley than for feed barley, they don’t always make malt quality. So then, they have to sell this lower-yielding malt variety that they grew for feed. So that’s also an issue that we hear repeatedly, year after year, from farmers. So yes, growers are really interested in this because it can bring in an even higher price than malt barley, and our goal is to make that as consistent as possible so they won’t get docked if beta glucan goes down because we know how consistent beta glucan is in separate environments.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So breads. What other kinds of products do you see this moving into?

Kevin Murphy: We have breads. I’m also working with a graduate student who’s working — well, two types of breads, pan breads and hearth breads, artisan-type breads. We work with local bakers who make pretzel knots. Pancakes as well. Cookies. Any, pretty much anything you can do with wheat, you can add a certain amount of barley to it — 20 to 60%, something like that, that can help either improve, well, definitely improve the nutritional value and the beta glucan content of the of the bread.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So you have these two new food varieties. What do you, where do you see food barley heading?

Kevin Murphy: Well, like I just mentioned, so what barley doesn’t have within food barley is a market class, a well-developed market class like we do for wheat. So figuring out which barleys do best in breads, which do best in cookies, which do best in noodles, which do best here, you know, for any product like that, that’s something we’re really excited about developing. We have some key partners we’re working with to do that. A second thing is we still need to get food barley’s yields as high as hulled barley. They’re not quite there yet, so that’s another major step forward we have to keep taking. Yield and yield components, such as disease resistance, we need to keep improving those. We’re working now with the Elson Floyd School of Medicine up in Spokane.

Drew Lyon: Yep.

Kevin Murphy: And so what they’re doing, they’re — well, we haven’t started yet, but we’re about to get going on a project with a new nutritionist there where we can give them some of our new, high-beta-glucan barleys and then some standard barleys, and they can actually include them in their human nutrition trials, develop human nutrition trials, feeding trials with people. And so that way, we can learn actually what, how, what’s the impact of these barleys on human health, or how high do we need to go for beta glucan to be impactful or other nutrients as well? So that’s another major step that we’re on the cusp of taking. Really excited about that. And then, finally, we’re working with a group of universities across the country to develop these hulless barleys and take them not just into the food realm, but also into the malt realm. So, maltsters can do so much more now than what they can, used to be able to do because their market, the craft brewing market is incredibly diverse. They have a lot of different requests for different types of flavors and consistencies, colors, etc., that these hulless barleys may be able to provide. For example, the malt extract in a hulless barley is, instead of being perhaps 80, it’s up to 88. So that makes a huge difference in things like, well, to brewers and maltsters. So things like that — any way we can use or make these barleys dual purpose or multipurpose and value added. That’s kind of what we’re looking forward in the future.

Drew Lyon: Okay. That’s exciting stuff. So what percent of the, you know — you’ve said most of the barley grown here is for feed.

Kevin Murphy: Yeah.

Drew Lyon: So as a part of your program, I assume you’re still doing some feed barley, but you see more of your program moving to the hulless and the malting types?

Kevin Murphy: We do, absolutely. And that’s, again, in response to what we hear from growers and what we hear from the Grain Commission. We have a huge program now on malt as well. And the good thing about that is if we focus on malt, a lot of those won’t make the quality, but they’ll still be very high yielding. And so those can then get funneled into our feed program as well. But we’ve already released three feed barley varieties, so we’re really now focusing on malt.

Drew Lyon: Okay. Well, lots of new things coming. Barley people should watch out. If people want to find out what’s going on in your program, is there some place they can go to see that information? Is there a website or reports that you put out that they could view?

Kevin Murphy: We do put out reports and we have a website also. The, probably the best way is to contact me at my email, and we can talk about our new varieties, and come to field days throughout the summer as well. So that’s a possibility for further discussion with growers.

Drew Lyon: So what is your email for our listeners?

Kevin Murphy: Okay, my email is kmurphy2 — the number 2 —

Drew Lyon: Excellent. Thank you very much, Kevin.

Kevin Murphy: You’re welcome. Thank you, Drew.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat Podcast. If you like what you hear, you can subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. And leave us a review while you’re there. If you have questions for us that you’d like to hear addressed on future episodes, please email me at You can find us online at You can also reach out on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat Podcast is a production of CAHNRS communications in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon. We’ll see you next week.

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