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Research Report: Updating Barley and Rye Management in Kentucky


By Chad Lee, Carrie Knott, James Dollarhide, Kathleen Russell and Katherine McLachlan Rod, University of Kentucky

Full Report (PDF)

The boom in distilleries and interest in locally-grown foods has combined to generate much interest in barley and rye for Kentucky. This has resulted in considerable interest from producers on current agronomic management practices for barley and rye. Unfortunately, management practices for these crops have not been extensively studied or updated in about  30 years, which was about the time that intensive wheat management was developed in Kentucky.

In 2016-2017, we investigated seeding rates and nitrogen (N) rates on barley, malting barley and hybrid rye. Seeding rates were 0.5, 0.75, 1.0, 1.25 and 1.5 million seeds per acre. For the seeding rate studies, N rate was set at 90 lb N/A with 30 lb applied at Feekes 3 and 60 applied at Feekes 5. In the nitrogen rate study, rates of 0, 30, 60, 90 and 120 lb N per acre were split-applied at Feekes 3 and 5. In addition, all plots received 30 lb N/A in the fall, consistent with  our recommendations when following excellent corn yields. For the nitrogen rate studies, all small grains were seeded at 1.25 million per acre. In 2015-2016, the studies were conducted only at Spindletop Farm near Lexington, KY. For 2016-2017, studies were conducted at Spindletop and at the Research and Education Center at Princeton, KY.

Research conclusions are below. Full results can be found at

Six-Row Barley (Feed Barley)
Seed rates had little affect on yields (averaging more than 85 Bu/A for all five seeding rates at three locations), and this has occurred in other small grain studies before. We had excellent
stands and tiller counts at all sites. The nitrogen rates are confusing. The 2016-17 season was an unusually warm winter with about five days of freezing temperatures. Damage to barley from the freeze was visually worse at Princeton. The warmer winter could have mineralized more nitrogen. Nitrogen was applied to all plots in the fall at 30 pounds per acre. That rate follows our recommendations when the preceding corn yields were excellent. However, that rate of 30 pounds N per acre plus an unusually warm winter could have resulted in more mineralized
N available for plant uptake. For the Lexington 2017 site, the field was minimally tilled before planting the small grains. Prior to that, the field was in no-tillage for several years. Perhaps
that tillage also increased N mineralization. We would still recommend N fertilizer on barley. We will study barley again this season.

Two-Row Barley (Malting Barley)
Seeding rates between 0.75 and 1.25 million seeds per acre resulted in the highest yields across both locations of about 123 Bu per acre. These seeding rate ranges are similar to current recommendations for feed barley. However, because grain quality is much more restrictive for malting versus feed barley, agronomic management that maximizes grain yield may
not produce desirable malting barley grain profiles. As such, additional research to characterize grain quality as well as yield are needed.

Hybrid Rye
A lack of yield response to seed rates is consistent with German guidelines for hybrid rye management. The yield response to nitrogen in 2016 is consistent with Germany as well, with the exception that nitrogen rates are at times higher than we tested. The lack of a nitrogen effect on yield in 2017 was similar to the barley trials at Lexington and equally confusing. Again, the warmer temperatures may have mineralized more nitrogen than normal. We would still recommend a nitrogen application on hybrid rye. We plan to modify the protocol for 2017-2018 to incorporate what we learned from Germany to see if hybrid rye in Kentucky will  respond.