Seed World

Jill McDonald Envisions a Bright Future for Barley, but we Need to Ensure it Remains a Competitive Crop

In Saskatchewan, a dedicated board of six barley farmers has been tirelessly working to enhance the profitability of barley for producers across the province. At the recent 2024 Barley Symposium held in Saskatoon, SaskBarley Executive Director Jill McDonald sat down with Seed World Canada to delve deeper into SaskBarley’s journey of transformation.

“Our primary purpose is to increase the profitability of barley for Saskatchewan producers,” McDonald explains. Over the past decade, the board has strategically directed its efforts towards research, with a bold goal of investing a large chunk of its dollars into this critical area.

One of their major achievements has been in pushing for variety acceptance of malting barley varieties. McDonald highlights the challenges faced by barley due to its low variety turnover. However, through concerted efforts by groups like theirs, end users are beginning to understand the importance of embracing new varieties, leading to a positive shift in the industry landscape.

Reflecting on their progress, McDonald notes, “Variety turnover takes time, but in the last five or six years, we’re starting to see a better system in place in Canada.” She attributes much of this progress to the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Center (CMBTC), which has become a strong driver for change, supported by organizations like SaskBarley.

The board’s initiatives extend beyond research. McDonald speaks passionately about their barley agronomy program, a groundbreaking endeavour with a specific focus on enhancing barley agronomy — a previously unexplored territory in research. He credits Mitchell for spearheading this program, emphasizing its potential to reshape the barley industry over the next seven years.

Challenges persist, however, particularly in remaining competitive amidst other crop choices. McDonald acknowledges the pressing issues of standability and pre-harvest sprouting but underscores the importance of profitability for farmers. With corn becoming more prominent, maintaining barley’s competitiveness becomes paramount, especially considering that 70% of the barley crop in Canada goes into the feed industry. The new GrowBarley initiative announced at the symposium will help, she added, as it’s the first agronomy research program directed specifically at barley to ever be created in Canada.

Amidst these challenges, the recent Canadian Barley Symposium marked the first in-person gathering since 2020. “It was time that we actually got together again,” she says. The symposium not only showcased a larger program but also boasted a notable influx of young researchers — a testament to the growing interest in barley research nurtured by initiatives like theirs.