This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
As a relatively small crop, barley doesn’t attract much interest from private breeding companies. There are roughly 10 million acres of barley in North America, with six million in Canada. Corn is a much larger crop, with 80 million acres seeded in the U.S. alone. Statistics Canada reports that Canada’s barley acreage has dropped by around 116,000 acres per year since 1980, while corn acreage increased by nearly 23,000 acres annually. At the same time, corn yields increased three times as fast as barley (1.8 bushels per acre per year for corn vs. less than half a bushel per acre per year for barley). These differences add up. In 2014, Canada produced almost 25% more corn than barley, using about half as many acres.
Part of the reason that corn yields have outstripped barley yields is due to fundamental differences in the plants themselves. Corn is open-pollinated, so breeding companies can cross two unrelated varieties to create a commercial variety that greatly outperforms both of its parents because of hybrid vigor. But if the seed produced by the hybrid is saved and re-seeded, Continue reading