Cheers to the Barley Council for Making Research and Innovation a Top Priority

The new Barley Council of Canada gets it: research and innovation, that’s what makes a difference to farmers.

The Calgary-based council, formally incorporated last month, lists research and innovation at the front of its top five priorities. Others include best crop production practices, market development, market access and (I especially like this one) communication within the barley value chain.

And when it comes to barley, the front of the pack is where research and innovation belong.

Barley research is more than a century old in Canada, and stands as one of this country’s earliest agricultural research success stories. It goes all the way back to the late 1880s, when agricultural research pioneer Charles Zavitz of the Ontario Agricultural College brought back barley varieties from Russia and started further developing them here.

It turns out he was a visionary. The 21st of 33 lines he generated had superb yield…and bonus, it also had fine malting abilities.  That line became known as OAC 21.

Zavitz went on to develop it further, and before long it caught on to such an extent that OAC 21 accounted for almost all the barley acreage in Ontario the early 1920s. For the next 50 years, OAC 21 would be the dominant barley grown in western Canada, too.

In 2000, The University of Guelph published a 20-page food inventory of commodities and products that had been developed there through the years, and called OAC 21 “the granddad of malting barleys.” It said most modern Canadian barley varieties trace their parentage to OAC 21. 

No wonder farmers repeatedly list research as one of their top priorities. In agriculture, for new variety development, the distance from the lab bench to the field is short. Compared to other technologies, plant innovation and technology uptake is fast.

Cheers to Canadian barley and to its producers for getting together, taking action and making research and innovation a top priority.

 

Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy

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