Barley is a relatively new crop for Howell Farms but was one of the first cultivated grains of the Fertile Crescent. Archaeologists have found that barley was domesticated for cultivation from a wild species about 10,000 years ago. Barley was the primary grain used for bread making for the Hebrews, Greeks and Romans and much of Europe through the 16th century AD. Barley is high in carbohydrates but contains little gluten which explains why it was used to make flour that produced unleavened or flatbread.
In 2018 Barley accounted for only 5% of the cereal production worldwide. Simone Riehl, Environmental Archaeologist, found that Barley has a “broad range of applications for subsistence and economy across different cultures, such as for baking, cooking, beer brewing and as an animal feed.” In 2004, she found that “85% of barley production was destined for feeding animals. However, as a component of the human diet, studies on the health benefits of the micro-nutrients in barley have found that it has a positive effect on blood cholesterol and glucose levels, and in turn impacts cardiovascular health and diabetes control.”
For us, Barley production makes sense for several reasons. Aaron Howell researched the possibilities before seeding the first crop and found that, “the Barley we plant is a fall seeded winter annual grass that provides a lot of value as a cover crop and offers the potential to be a very economically viable cash crop.” This is essential in the era of lower than the cost-of-production corn and soybean prices. “As a cover crop, Barley roots scavenge and store up unused nutrients that the previous warm season crop left behind and provides alleviation of soil compaction caused by farm machinery. Barley growing in the late fall and early spring protects our soil from erosion. A fall-seeded crop like Barley continues to capture solar energy late into the fall and beginning again early in the spring. Rather than allowing this ‘off-season’ sun to go unused, cool season grasses use it to grow grain and pump carbon into our soils to feed valuable soil microbes that play a vital role in sustaining and nurturing all future crops on the land. With several years of experience in the economics of growing fall seeded cover crops, growing Barley just made a lot of sense to us as a cash crop. It is a lower-cost crop to grow, with seed and fertilizer costs slightly lower than that of wheat.” And further, “As soybean farmers at this latitude, barley is a very appealing alternative to wheat because it matures ten days to two weeks sooner than wheat allowing us to plant double crop soybeans in mid-June instead of on the 4th of July.”
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