In the northeastern corner of the state, Essex County farmers grew more than 3,000 acres of barley last year, much of it hulled varieties. Unfortunately, hulled barley is one commodity that has seen price declines over the last few years. Virginia Cooperative Extension is working with growers in Essex County and other areas around the state to find ways to improve the prices they receive for their crops. One way is to find value-added crop varieties of the crops they already grow.
“We are working with farmers to evaluate hulless barley, a type of barley where the hull threshes free from the grain,” says Wade Thomason, Extension grains specialist. “This decreases the fiber and increases the energy density and protein of the grain, making it attractive for both livestock feed and ethanol production.”
Thomason adds that Extension does not limit its work with value-added crops to barley. “We are working with producers to find crops that increase their profits and give them more value per acre of land – everything from broccoli to chili peppers,” he says.
One such crop is wheat, which accounts for more than 230,000 acres of Virginia farmland, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Harvested wheat generated more than $71 million for the state’s economy last year, but that number could be higher if producers grew wheat varieties used for bread.
“In Virginia, the soft wheat varieties we currently grow can be found in foods like pastries and crackers, but not breads,” Thomason says. “Climate issues and higher disease rates have thus far prevented farmers from growing bread-type wheat, which is typically worth 40 to 50 cents per bushel more than the soft wheat varieties currently grown in the state.”
For this reason, Thomason and his colleagues are testing new wheat varieties and training agents around the state about which varieties farmers can use. These agents, in turn, are educating producers about their options. Some Virginia wheat growers have already switched over to new varieties based on Extension’s advice.
“Until the last decade, we had focused our efforts on searching for ways for farmers to maximize their profits through improved agricultural practices,” Thomason says, “but now we are turning some of our attention to finding crops for these farmers that have a higher value.”
Extension faculty and farmers are evaluating alternative varieties of barley, among other crops, for their potential to bring in higher profits.