Fairbanks scientists develop cold-climate barley

State growing new Sunshine strain in Palmer to provide seeds next year

Posted: Tuesday, July 07, 2009

FAIRBANKS - Scientists have developed a cold climate barley called Sunshine that could be available to growers as early as next year.

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Sam Harrel / The Associated Press
Sam Harrel / The Associated Press

The barley resulting from the 17-year project at the University of Alaska Fairbanks could fill a niche in northern agriculture.

Barley flour is free of gluten, a common allergen, and UAF Cooperative Extension tests determined it is high in nutrients.

Alaska farmers had success growing hulled barley, but hull-less varieties would lay down by the time they were mature.

"It was almost impossible to harvest the stuff," said Charlie Knight, the northern region manager for the Alaska Division of Agriculture who was among the former UAF researchers on the Sunshine project.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported Monday that the work began in 1993 when former UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences plant breeder Steve Dofing married a strain of barley called Thual with a crop from Finland.

During the first growing year, about 3,000 different samples were identified from the crossbred field of barley. Seeds were collected from the plants that had the most desirable characteristics, and those were planted the following year.

The process was repeated for 13 years, until seeds were isolated that could consistently produce the same characteristics, generation after generation.

Since 2006, Sunshine barley has been planted in small quantities at UAF, Delta Junction and Palmer to ensure it can thrive in different soils and locations in Alaska.

The Plant Materials Center, which is operated by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources in Palmer, is growing a Sunshine crop this summer that will provide commercial seeds next year.

Because of budget cuts, UAF no longer employs a plant breeder. When the trials for Sunshine barley are complete, the campus could be out of the business of developing new crops.

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