Malting Quality in Two-Row & Six-Row Barley Back »

Over 703,000 bushels of barley were produced in South Dakota according to the 2015 USDA crop survey. While much of this barley went to feed livestock, some of it also made its way into the pint glasses of saloon patrons across the country. Beer Advocate currently lists 18 craft breweries in operation in South Dakota. This is just over 2 breweries per 100,000 residents.1 As South Dakota’s craft brewing industry continues to expand, the demand for locally grown malting barley will inevitably increase. This, in turn, may provide new market opportunities for farmers looking to diversify their operations. However, when it comes to malting barley quality matters, and there are numerous factors to be considered to select the right variety. Malting barley generally comes in two variations: two-row and six-row, which makes reference to the grain architecture on the axis (rachis) of the spike. Two-row barley is generally thought to be the preference of craft brewers, six-row barley on the other hand is utilized more frequently by larger brewing operations. The latter is likely the result of higher enzyme content, which increases the ability to convert starch into sugar.

Malting Barley: Ideal characteristics

Contrary to all that wheat growers hold dear, high protein content in barley is undesirable. Starch is king in the fermentation process2 and it exists in barley grains in an inverse relationship with protein. Therefore, as protein increases, starch decreases and more grain is needed for a desired extract. A quality barley generally contains 12 percent protein or less but may still be sold up to 13 percent. Low protein content (less than 9.5 percent) however is also problematic. Plumpness, as the name suggests, is a measure of kernel size. Officially, plump barley grains are those that remain on top of a 6/64 inch slotted screen. A high-quality malting barley will generally have greater than 80 percent plump kernels for six-row, and greater than 90 percent plump kernels for two-row barley. Finally, disease is another important factor in malting barley. The primary concern comes from the content of deoxynivalenol (DON) or vomitoxin, which results from Fusarium head blight (scab). In general, DON levels above 1 ppm are considered unacceptable. In short, maltsters are picky when it comes to the grain they seek. Some reports suggest that only 20-30 percent of all malting barley grown is actually accepted for malting. However, if a quality product can be produced on a consistent basis, a premium can be expected in the market.

The Bottom Line

Undoubtedly, South Dakota can produce a high-quality malting product. View the 2016 South Dakota Barley Variety Trial Results for a summary of recent two-row and six-row variety trials conducted in South Dakota.


  1. Vermont leads the country with 9.4 breweries per 100,000 residents.
  2. Actually sugar is, but generally it must first be converted from starch through a process called, ‘saccharification’
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