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Barley enhancement to meet the needs of Ontario industry

Principal Investigator: Lewis Lukens & Alireza Navabi

Research Institution: University of Guelph

Timeline: March 2016 – March 2019


  • Evaluate and cross from a diverse set of barley genotypes from both western Canada and other countries to identify elite, disease-resistant barley adapted to Ontario.
  • Generate a set of mutagenized lines from the barley genotype Dignity to introduce novel genetic variation into a leading barley variety.
  • Select for a stay-green barley to improve crop stress tolerance and yield.


  • The improvement of barley genetics and development of improved barley cultivars will maintain and increase the global competitiveness of Ontario barley growers and processors.
  • The collection of elite barley diversity and generation of a mutagenized population will identify many valuable traits that can be harnessed for future barley improvement.

Scientific Summary:

Barley (Hordeum vulgare) is an increasingly important crop for Ontario farmers and is currently grown on approximately 115,000 acres in the province. Barley is currently a source of feed and food. Although there is limited production of malt, there is a strong demand from the rapidly growing craft brewing industry. Genetic improvement by introducing novel germplasm and by selecting for important traits within that germplasm will contribute to a high yielding, high quality crop. Genetic improvement of Ontario barley has languished for a number of years. Currently there is little-to-no private barley breeding in Ontario. Without genetic improvement, the quality and productivity of the current crop will likely decrease gradually, although new disease pressures could cause a rapid decline. Improved variety development will enhance barley yields and quality, thereby increasing the value.

This project aimed at introducing novel germplasm for barley improvement, to evaluate and utilize the latest statistical and information technologies to make selections and to determine the crosses to be performed. A key rationale for this work was to maintain and increase the global competitiveness of Ontario barley growers and processors. We had a three-pronged approach to barley improvement. First, to initiate an active barley breeding program using diverse germplasm using barley cultivars developed by breeders in environments with some similarities to release cultivars as an Ontario variety, or to use cultivars in crosses to capture positive traits. Second, to mutagenize an elite barley variety to generate novel genetic variation. Because we generated valuable traits in an elite cultivar, we were able to quickly use these traits in a cultivated variety. Finally, we selected for stay-green barley that maintains green leaves long after flowering and after water/heat stress because stay-green has been a critical trait for the improvement of other cereals. Stay-green is highly heritable and stay-green varieties have been induced through mutagenesis with an EMS treatment. We note that EMS mutagenizes randomly, thus genotypes will vary for valuable traits in addition to stay-green.


1. Evaluate and cross a diverse set of barley genotypes to identify genotypes for Ontario:

We acquired seed from 237 malting quality lines and evaluated them in Elora for agronomic traits. We have two years of data for these lines and some entries are very promising. Moreover, two introduction nurseries of 100 (in 2016) and 87 (in 2017) Western Canadian elite barley germplasm, which included 2- and 6-row, hulled and hull-less, food and feed genotypes, were planted at the Cribit Seeds location and tested for agronomic traits. Out of 2016 materials 64 entries were selected. These entries were tested in 2017 in multi-location, replicated trials. Some of these 64 entries were also used in crossing with Ontario elite materials. 176 head rows, each derived from a single head selected in advanced segregating generations, were planted at the Elora research station and evaluated for agronomic traits. 56 head rows were selected and tested in a preliminary yield trial in 2017 at the Elora Research Station. One 6-row and four 2-row barley genotypes from the University of Guelph were included in the Barley Orthogonal Trials in 2018.

 2. Generate a set of EMS mutagenized lines:

Genetically pure Dignity seed was obtained (the cultivar is not pure) and additional stock seed was grown out. Experiments were performed to identify the optimal EMS concentration for mutagenesis. Initial treatments showed both high lethality and low fertility in surviving plants, indicating that Dignity likely has a low genotypic tolerance to mutagenesis relative to other barley cultivars. A subsequent treatment identified the optimal dosage range for balancing yield with mutation frequency. A mutagenized population was created of more than 2800 barley lines at this dosage, which was advanced through mature M3 plants (producing M4 seed). The M4 seed of approximately 2250 unique lineages was produced. Using M2 and M3 seedling chlorosis as a parameter, it was concluded that mutation frequency was within the optimal range. Lineages were tracked for each plant.

 3.Select for “stay green” trait in existing cultivars and EMS lines:

Several mutants were identified in the EMS population for a number of traits, and their inheritance is being confirmed. To get a good evaluation of stay green traits, M4 seed needs to be grown in the field. Existing varieties were screened for “stay green.”

External Funding Partners:

Cribit Seeds


This project was funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario.

Project Related Publications:

Roberts, O. 2017. Developing local barley: New high quality, high yielding breeding program. Grain Farmer Magazine. 8(5): 22-23.

Neyhart, J.L., Sweeney, D., Sorrells, M., Kapp, C., Kephart, K.D., Sherman, J., Stockinger, E.J., Fisk, S., Hayes, P., Daba, S., Mohammadi, M., Hughes, N., Lukens, L., Barrios, P.G., Gutiérrez, L. and Smith, K.P. 2019. Registration of the S2MET barley mapping population for multi‐environment genomewide selection. Journal of Plant Registrations, 13: 270-280.