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Organic Grain Varieties Explored
By Ashlely McFarland
 
In 2017, the Michigan State University Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in Chatham, Michigan along with MSU Extension Field Crop Educator Monica Jean were recently awarded a grant through the Organic Farming Research Foundation. The primary goal of the grant is to develop a framework of research and knowledge of organic grain systems in the region and to determine the market potential for farm adoption. Two research projects were launched: 1) examining oat production with various underseedings for weed control and forage establishment at the Guindon Farms (Cornell, MI) in field-scale plots and 2) examining grain variety and management trials at the MSU Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center North Farm in small-scale plots. Both research trials were managed organically and were planted on certified organic land. This article will share the results of the replicated organic grain variety trials at the MSU North Farm.
 
The variety trial set out to look at four varieties each of corn, oats and barley – recognizing they have the greatest potential to meet the demand for organic livestock feed in the region. Unfortunately, due to bird depredation, the corn trial was established twice and failed twice, with seed being eaten out of the ground at vegetative emergence. The research team decided to direct their focus on oats and barley. The barley and oat varieties were planted on April 25, 2017, in a randomized complete block design with four replications. The plot rea was rototilled twice in a checker-board pattern and cultipacked before planting. The seeding rate for oats was 96 lbs./acre and barley 120 lbs./acre. 300 lbs./acre of Midwestern BioAg (4-1-11) was top-dressed at Feekes stage seven using a Gandy drop spreader.
 
The oats were harvested August 29, 2017 and were challenged by weeds, lodging and high moisture at harvest due to the cool, wet season. Nonetheless, differences were noted between the varieties. Deon was the most impressive variety, while Streaker, a hulless oat, performed the worst. Both Streaker and Shelby 427 experienced significant lodging. Results can be found in Table 1.
 
Table 1. Organic Oat Variety Trial results from the MSU North Farm (Chatham, MI)
 

Variety

Betagene

Streaker

Shelby 427

Deon

Yield (bu/acre)

96

42

90

101

% Moisture

16.9

17.7

17.3

15.5

Test Weight (lbs/bu)

38

50

39

40

% Crude Protein

11.3

14.3

11.6

11.3

Lodging*

5

9

9

3

Height (in)

36

36

36

47

 
 
*Lodging scale 1-10, 1 = no lodging, 10 = grain completely lodged
 
The barley was harvested August 29, 2017, and faced many of the same challenges as the oats, but even great differences amongst the varieties were evident. Robust was tall, erect and easy to harvest, followed by Quest. Both Pinnacle and Conlon were severely lodged. Results can be found in Table 2.
 
Table 2. Organic Barley Variety Trial results from the MSU North Farm (Chatham, MI)
 

Variety

Pinnacle

Robust

Conlon

Quest

Yield (bu/acre)

15

57

28

46

% Moisture

16.6

15.7

15.9

15.4

Test Weight (lbs/bu)

46

49

51

49

% Crude Protein

11.4

12.1

11.6

11.5

Lodging*

9

4

9

6

Height (in)

26

36

29

32

 
 
*Lodging scale 1-10, 1 = no lodging, 10 = grain completely lodged
 
A great deal of information was gleaned from this initial year of work. Although the weather challenged production from planting to harvest, quality data was collected and will be informing an organic variety trial slated for the North Farm once again in 2018. The research team hopes to expand on the varieties and utilize effective weed management strategies learned from the associated weed management trial, which is summarized in another article. It was very promising to see varieties yield well, some of which stood up to lodging pressure, and have all the grain samples collected test below the traceable levels for deoxynivalenol (DON), a common vomitoxin which could make grain unsuitable for livestock.