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Barley field
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Poales
Family: Poaceae
Genus: Hordeum
Hordeum arizonicum
Hordeum brachyantherum
Hordeum bulbosum
Hordeum californica
Hordeum depressum
Hordeum intercedens
Hordeum jubatum
Hordeum marinum
Hordeum murinum
Hordeum pusillum
Hordeum secalinum
Hordeum spontaneum
Hordeum vulgare
ITIS 40865 2002-09-22
Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is a major food and animal feed crop, a member of the grass family.

Barley is the fifth largest cultivated cereal crop in the world (53 million hectares or 132 million acres). Major barley producers are :

Russia 7.2 million hectares
Ukraine 3.7 million hectares
Turkey 3.6 million hectares
Canada 4.5 million hectares
Australia 3.0 million hectares
Spain 3.3 million hectares
Morocco 2.3 million hectares
Iran 1.0 million hectares
Iraq 1.2 million hectares
USA 2.1 million hectares

Cultivated barley is related to the wild barley (Hordeum spontaneum) which still can be found in the Middle East. Evidence suggests that domestication of barley started 6000 years BC in the Middle East.

Barley is widely adaptable and is currently a major crop of the temperate and tropical areas.

Barley is a staple food for humans and animals. Malting barley is a key ingredient in beer and whiskey production.

The 1881 Household Cyclopedia adds:

Next to wheat the most valuable grain is barley, especially on light and sharp soils.

It is a tender grain and easily hurt in any of the stages of its growth, particularly at seed time; a heavy shower of rain will then almost ruin a crop on the best prepared land; and in all the after processes greater pains and attention are required to ensure success than in the case of other grains. The harvest process is difficult, and often attended with danger; even the threshing of it is not easily executed with machines, because the awn generally adheres to the grain, and renders separation from the straw a troublesome task. Barley, in fact, is raised at greater expense than wheat, and generally speaking is a more hazardous crop. Except upon rich and genial soils, where climate will allow wheat to be perfectly reared, it ought not to be cultivated.


Barley may be divided into two sorts, fall and spring; to which may be added a bastard variety, called bear or bigg, which affords similar nutriment or substance, though of inferior quality. The spring is cultivated like oats; the fall, like fall wheat. Early barley, under various names, was formerly sown in Britain upon lands that had been previously summer-fallowed, or were in high condition.

The most proper seed season for spring barley is any time in March or April, though we have seen good crops produced, the seed of which was sown at a much later period.

Barley may also be divided by the number of kernal rows in the head. There are two types; two-row barley and six-row barley. Two-row barley has a lower protein content than six-row barley but a higher enzyme content. High protein barley is best suited for animal feed or malt that has a large adjunct content. Two-row barley is best suited for pure malts.

Preparation of ground

Barley is chiefly taken after turnips, sometimes after peas and beans, but rarely by good farmers either after wheat or oats, unless under special circumstances. When sown after turnips it is generally taken with one furrow, which is given as fast as the turnips are consumed, the ground thus receiving much benefit from the spring frosts. But often two, or more furrows are necessary for the fields last consumed, because when a spring drought sets in, the surface, from being poached by the removal or consumption of the crop, gets so hardened as to render a greater quantity of ploughing, harrowing and rolling necessary than would otherwise be called for. When sown after beans and peas, one winter and one spring ploughing are usually bestowed: but when after wheat or oats, three ploughings are necessary, so that the ground may be put in proper condition. These operations are very ticklish in a wet and backward season, and rarely in that case is the grower paid for the expense of his labor. Where land is in such a situation as to require three ploughings before it can be seeded with barley, it is better to summer-fallow it at once than to run the risks which seldom fail to accompany a quantity of spring labor. If the weather be dry, moisture is lost during the different processes, and an imperfect braird necessarily follows; if it be wet the benefit of ploughing is lost, and all the evils of a wet seed time are sustained by the future crop.

The quantity sown is different in different cases, according to the quality of the soil and other circumstances. Upon very rich lands eight pecks per acre are sometimes sown; twelve is very common, and upon poor land more is sometimes given.

By good judges a quantity of seed is sown sufficient to ensure a full crop, without depending on its sending out offsets; indeed, where that is done few offsets are produced, the crop grows and ripens equally, and the grain is uniformly good.