Posted: January 9, 2018

Malting barley research supports Pennsylvania’s craft beer industry.

Craft breweries in Pennsylvania produce more than 4 million barrels of beer annually, according to the Brewers Association. The economic impact of the industry is estimated at $4.48 billion, the second largest in the country.

The industry's popularity has led Greg Roth, professor of agronomy and associate head of the Department of Plant Science, to spearhead research in malting barley, a key ingredient in beer production--with a goal of helping Pennsylvania's farmers.

"In the last 15 years, there has been a tremendous increase in the craft beer industry," says Roth. "With this rapid growth has come an increased demand for locally sourced, high-quality and high-yielding malting barley, and we want to be a leader in helping our farmers meet the demand."

With a multitude of winter and spring malting barley varieties available, Roth's first undertaking was to identify which ones would grow well in Pennsylvania and meet grain quality and yield specifications of the industry. Over several planting seasons, Roth and colleague Alyssa Collins, director of the Lancaster County research center and assistant professor of plant pathology and environmental microbiology, analyzed crop growth, soil conditions, insect damage, and yield. They especially focused on disease control, as that is a major challenge associated with growing malting barley.

To their surprise, most European varieties outperformed those from the United States, demonstrating good disease resistance, high yields, and good quality. The team identified five varieties as standouts. To share this information with growers, they created a fact sheet with comprehensive study information, including varieties, seeding, crop rotations, weed and insect control, and disease management.

"What's really exciting is that some of the malting barley varieties we've recommended are showing up in craft beers in Pennsylvania," Roth says. "Another great thing is that the barley that isn't used for brewing still has value as livestock feed. So nothing is wasted."

--Amy Duke