The price for winter barley has declined since 1996. Even though winter barley was an integral component of the region's cropping system, growers stopped producing it because it was not profitable. The Small Grains Breeding Program work is aimed at reversing this trend. It has focused on improving and diversifying barley's end-use quality.
"Traditional hulled barley cultivars that have higher starch and energy content, therefore, better feed quality, such as cultivars named 'Thoroughbred' and 'Price,' have recently been released by Virginia Tech," said Carl Griffey, professor of crop and soil environmental science at Virginia Tech. "Similar to wheat in appearance, ulless barley is significantly higher in starch content and significantly lower in fiber than traditional hulled barley," he said. Virginia Tech released the first winter hulless barley cultivar, "Doyce," in 2003.
The breeding program is developing both traditional soft red winter wheat cultivars and new cultivars with unique and high-value end-use characteristics such as higher protein content, quality, and white seed color. The Virginia Tech wheat cultivars "Tribute" and "Renwood 3260" have a unique protein quality, making them suited for specialty products. The cultivar "Pearl" is the first soft white cultivar developed and released from the program. Production of such high-value specialty grains offers producers an economic alternative to commodity markets.
The Small Grains Breeding Program continues to work on more new cultivars that help provide solutions to agriculture problems. Another of the projects aims to develop wheat and barley cultivars resistant to pests and so require fewer chemical inputs. For example, producers would obtain higher yields of a safer and higher quality grain that is resistant to Fusarium head blight, commonly referred to as scab. Scab problems have occurred on an annual basis during the past decade, and severe epidemics nearly devastated the crop in Virginia during 1998 and 2003. Scab-resistant wheat cultivars developed at Virginia Tech include "Roane," "McCormick," and "Tribute."