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University of Minnesota Extension

Small grains crop and variety selection

Find guidance on how to choose the right barley, oat, wheat and rye varieties for your farm, as well as information about individual varieties and related regulations.

Guidance and background


Individual varieties and performance

How trials are conducted

To compare small grain varieties, trial plots are set up at several experiment stations in Minnesota and  in farmers’ fields in many counties across the state.  At each location, varieties are grown in replicated plots. Plots are handled so factors affecting yield and other characteristics are as similar as possible for all varieties at each location.

Trials are not designed for comparisons between crops/species because crops are grown on different fields or with different management. Only use the data to compare varieties within a single table.

Variety trial results

Barley variety trials

Most barley producers in the region grow barley for malt and select varieties approved by the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA). The most important industry specifications for making malting grade are low grain protein (11.5%-13.5%), kernel plumpness (>80%) and low deoxynivalenol or DON content (<2 ppm). DON is the toxin produced by the Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) pathogen. In addition to yield and acceptable malt quality, disease resistance plays an important role in variety selection. 

Oat variety trials

In addition to yield, lodging and grain quality traits, varieties are evaluated for crown rust, loose smut and barley yellow dwarf resistance.

Spring wheat

Varieties are evaluated on yield performance and quality traits. Resistance to Fusarium head blight (FHB) is an important consideration, since it can reduce grain quality. Other disease evaluations include leaf, stem and stripe rusts, and bacterial leaf streak.

Winter rye variety trials

Winter rye is the most winter hardy and drought tolerant of all small grains. It continues to grow until late fall, overwinters, and then resumes growth in the spring, making it a popular choice for cover crop/green manure systems. It is also grown for pasture/forage and as a grain crop. Hybrid winter rye varieties typically yield significantly more than open-pollinated varieties.

Winter wheat variety trials

Fall establishment and winter survival are essential for winter wheat to reach its potential in Minnesota. The yield potential for winter wheat is greater than spring wheat, especially in the southern half of the state.  In addition to yield, varieties are evaluated for winter hardiness, days to heading, plant height and resistance to lodging.  Most winter wheat are considered to be susceptible to very susceptible to FHB; however, because they head earlier than spring wheat varieties, they have a chance to avoid the yield and quality losses of this disease.

New variety releases

Each year, the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association (MCIA), in cooperation with the University of Minnesota and other universities, makes newly released varieties available. You can find a summary of wheat, oat and barley varieties released in recent years under Foundation seed.

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