Understanding components of specific weight in barley grains – opportunities for improving grain quality and processing efficiency (PhD)

Project number 21130047

Lead partner SRUC

Scientific partners University of Edinburgh

Industry partners SWRI

Start date October 2016

End date March 2020

AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds funding £69,327 

Total funding £71,974

The challenge

Grain of high specific weight is preferred for all end markets as it is an indication of good, bold seed with high starch content for milling and processing, as well as high energy value feed grain. Specific weight, therefore, is a key determinant for the price the farmer receives and the overall marketability of the product. 

Specific weight, however, must be considered in relation to barley grain and malt characteristics important to processing quality – such as grain size and low screenings and chemical characteristics (including high malt extract and spirit yield per tonne of grain or malt). At present, our understanding of these relationships and their genetic and environmental controls are poorly understood. 

This lack of understanding could contribute to failures to maintain high specific weight and limit progress in increasing yield and efficiency during malting and downstream processes.

The project

It is proposed that the extent to which high specific weight increases malting efficiency will depend on the nature of the traits contributing to grain density and packing within a grain bulk. 

This study will:

1) Identify genetic variation in specific weight in barley

2) Analyse how grain shape and size, and endosperm structure (cell and starch), determine specific weight in relation to ‘true’ grain density

3) Establish how other main grain characteristics (seasonally influenced) determine specific weight that influence potential grain size, grain filling, grain ripening and pre-harvest condition  

4) Evaluate differences in specific weight in the malting process

The benefits

Findings from this project could enable the malting, distilling and plant breeding sectors to make more informed decisions about the value of specific weight to their businesses.

The project will improve understanding of the components of specific weight, which could help increase resource use efficiency across the supply chain. 

The project will also lead to improved guidance on growing for these sectors. Even a small percentage improvement in specific weight would be expected to have a significant commercial impact.

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