Prior to the early 1970s, hulless barley was a curiosity in Canadian barley research and development (R&D). A few cultivars were released from 1920 to 1980, but added feed value was not recognized nor realized.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, an effort was launched to investigate overall improvement of feed grains for Western Canada, with an emphasis on barley for export and domestic use. Key players in these groundbreaking steps were D.R. Metcalfe (AAFC), C. Brown (CWB), and J. Sibbald (AAFC). Others included: M. Bell, R. Bhatty, I. Christison, J. Berdahl and B. Harvey, (U. of Sask.), E. Stringam and L. Campbell (U. of Man.), K. Buchannon, R. Wolfe and V. Bendelow (AAFC), D. Laberge and A. MacGregor (CGC). Key leadership came from D.R. Metcalfe who first made a presentation about breeding and improving feed grains (especially barley) at the Canada Committee on Grain Breeding (CCGB) meeting in February of 1968. He followed by organizing and chairing an ad-hoc feed grains improvement committee through the mid-1970s making a significant report to the 1973 CCGB meeting. As a result of these efforts, and specific investigations by the Eastern Prairie Barley Project group (AAFC, Wpg & Bdn & the Univ. of Sask. & Man.), a majority of the barley R&D community agreed that a road to improvement lay in the development of commercially acceptable hulless barley cultivars. This would improve energy for poultry and swine and make export barley more competitive ith the international feed standard com.
The first breeding project to respond and undertake a significant, concerted effort on hulless barley development for Western Canada was the feed barley program, Crop Development Centre CDC), University of Saskatchewan, where J. Berdahl (followed by B. Rossnagel in 1977) and R. Bhatty began serious breeding and selection in 1973. The program was based on crosses introgressing the hulless trait into local germplasm made by B. Harvey in the late 1960s. From the outset the program collaborated with nutritionists in the University of Saskatchewan, Animal & Poultry Science Department to improve nutritional quality. Basic donor hulless parents were Hulless Betzes from R. Eslick, Montana State for 2-rows and the US variety Godiva for 6-rows. First results were the release of the 2-row variety Scout (1982) and the 6-row Tupper (1984). Ten hulless varieties have been released through 1999.
The second major effort was that by the Alberta Department of Agriculture, where J. Helm began dedicating significant effort to the hulless type in the late 1970s. This program has contributed significantly to the short history of hulless with the release of the 2-row variety Condor (1988) and the 6-row Falcon (1992). To date, three more varieties have since been released.
The first hulless genotypes appeared in the western barley Co-op tests in 1980 and a separate western Hulless Barley Co-op trial was established in 1988. Eighteen varieties have been registered since 1982.
Commercial production of hulless barley became notable in the late 1980s, especially in Alberta. While difficult to obtain accurate data, it is generally agreed that western Canadian acreage reached some 750,000 acres in 1997, having doubled annually from 1993 to 1996. While acreage dropped in 1998, primarily because producers were not realizing sufficient price premiums, and the current hog industry downturn may depress 1999 acreage, it should recover by 2000 and continue long?term growth after that.
Keywords: hulless barley