Pendleton is the breadbasket of Oregon, but if Pat Hayes had his way, it would be known for barley. The Oregon State University plant geneticist has been growing new varieties at OSU’s research farm there since 1986. This year, his crew harvested 44 different lines of barley on 132 plots.
His goal is to see how they hold up to snowy winters and scorching summers and whether they can compete economically with wheat. His aim is to give wheat farmers another crop option and a different source of income. His focus has been on growing fall-planted barley for livestock feed. He has also tested barleys for malting and food, but there’s currently no market for them in Pendleton, so they end up as fodder, he said.
So far, he has found that some varieties can equal or surpass some types of wheat on a pound-by-pound basis. But, whether barley can go head to head economically depends on the prices of the two grains and how much fertilizer was applied. Barley uses 20 percent less nitrogen than wheat, Hayes said, and it can be harvested two weeks earlier. That’s good news for farmers who want to spread out their harvest season. On the downside, however, the stems of Pendleton-grown barley tend to fall over if nitrogen is applied at the rate used for wheat and if there are heavy winds. That makes the collapsed plants harder to harvest.
But Hayes defends his barley. “Pendleton is one of the championship places for growing wheat on the planet,” he said, “so barley has that hurdle to overcome.”