Review for blue barley breeding

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At the Australian Grains Industry Conference, Barley Australia director John Stuart said the grains industry needs to review the potential agronomic benefits and market acceptance of blue aleurone barley.

PHOTO: Catherine Norwood

Grain growers could be missing out on the potential benefits of European barley germplasm because of an industry policy brought in 30 years ago to eliminate blue aleurone material from Australian breeding programs.

However, Barley Australia director John Stuart has flagged a review of blue aleurone genetics. Speaking at the Australian Grains Industry Conference in Melbourne earlier in the year, he said the industry needed to reconsider the potential agronomic benefits along with the possible market response to blue aleurone varieties.

In these varieties the thin layer on the grain immediately under the husk can vary from a white or very pale grey through to dark blue. Seasonal and environmental conditions can combine to trigger the expression of the blue trait, which may not otherwise be obvious.

The Australian industry decided in the 1980s to eliminate the small number of blue aleurone varieties being grown, and grain receival standards specify barley with white aleurone only. Mr Stuart said the decision was based on appearance rather than any performance characteristics.

The privatisation of barley breeding in Australia and new links with European breeders have seen renewed interest in European breeding material, much of which incorporates blue aleurone germplasm.

But Mr Stuart said it is difficult to screen for this trait in advance. Breeders often only realised it was an issue when the colour was triggered by seasonal conditions.

For example, the variety Henley had received malting accreditation before detection of blue aleurone in 2014 crops and was subsequently withdrawn. Litmus is a newly released export feed variety suited to acidic soils in Western Australia, which also unexpectedly revealed blue characteristics in the 2015 crops. CBH Group has agreed to receive the variety in 2016-17, subject to a one per cent limit on blue aleurone grain.

Mr Stuart said aleurone colour was rarely specified in export trading contracts, but nonetheless extensive consultation with domestic and export markets would be an essential part of any review. He said China’s acceptance of blue aleurone varieties would be a crucial issue, as it was now Australia’s largest export market, buying six million tonnes of barley in 2015.

Feedback from China

Barley Australia’s executive manager, Dr Megan Sheehy, spoke with Chinese buyers at two technical workshops in China in July.

The workshops were part of a joint initiative with the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre and Austrade.

Dr Sheehy said the two most significant issues for the Chinese brewing industry are the recent rapid rate of varietal chsange and barley protein levels: “Everyone we spoke to raised concerns about the rapid changes in varieties as an issue. They would like to see some stable mainstream varieties that remain on the market for five years or so.”

Maltsters and brewers were also keen to see higher-protein barley, better suited to the different brewing techniques used in China.

“Higher-protein barley is already available, but it does come at a cost,” Dr Sheehy said. “It’s related to the way the crop is grown – it requires extra effort from growers to achieve higher protein.”

More information:

Dr Megan Sheehy,
Barley Australia,,

Barley Australia


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