Growing Food Barley

By Maddie Patterson
Communications & Marketing Intern
Northern Crops Institute

Other articles on this blog have looked at how barley is malted, processed, and made into food products. But those blogs still haven’t answered the first question. How and where is food barley grown? From planting to harvest, barley goes through many different stages of development before becoming the ingredient we see on store shelves.

Planting

When it comes to planting, barley is grown primarily in the northern and northwestern regions, although there are other pockets of barley production across the United States. This is because barley grows best in cool, dry growing areas and has a short growing season. This makes it an ideal crop for the northern region, where summer quickly turns back into fall. Planting for spring barley in these regions generally occurs from March to May. During this time farmers work to get seed in the ground and ready to grow.

Growth

Once the barley is in the soil, the growing season has begun. The barley seed has a lot of work to do before becoming a fully functioning plant. The seed soon begins to grow, sending up a sprout and roots in different directions. After the first shoot has emerged from the soil, the beginning plant will start to grow upward and send out additional leaves. Next it will continue developing, and eventually sprout a head that contains the barley grain.

Harvesting

Now that the barley grain is developed, it will take some time to finish drying out so it can be harvested. The head will continue to harden and loses color until it is completely ready for harvest. This happens once the moisture content is lower and the barley head is drooping towards the ground. Finally, the grain is ready to be taken out of the field and made into food. The next step is to get the barley out of the fields, usually by heading or swathing the barley plant. After this the barley will be cleaned and processed further.

After the barley has been harvested, it still has a ways to go before becoming food. If you’re interested in the steps that follow harvesting food barley check out the How is Barley Processed blog.