Timing and moisture

Despite the long growing season and dry harvest weather in the Western provinces, it is important not to delay harvest as mature barley does not stand weather damage as well as wheat. When harvested, the barley kernel should be firm and not doughy in texture and feel. Barley for malt must be uniformly and fully ripe when it is harvested, whereas barley feed may be a bit greener.

A critical factor in determining the right time to harvest is the moisture of the kernel.

  • barley for malt can be harvested when the grain has reached 13.5 per cent or less seed moisture content
  • barley for feed can be harvested as soon as the grain contains less than 14.5 per cent moisture content

Harvesting can occur at a higher moisture level than indicated above, providing you have access to aeration bins that can dry the grain and lower the moisture levels by as much as one to two per cent. This is a proper course of action to take if weather factors dictate an earlier harvest date to prevent mass damage to your crop.

Grain drying

There are several methods of drying your harvested barley in order to achieve desired moisture levels; including aeration, natural grain drying and the use of commercial grain dryers. It is important to note that, when drying, excessive heat will damage your barley and compromise its quality. The temperatures must be carefully monitored based on the end-use. For seed and malting barley, the temperature must not exceed 45°C , while for feed, it can range between 80-100°C .

View a detailed breakdown of grain drying options 


Residue management

Regardless of cutting method (straight cut or swath), residue management is an important factor in the health of your soil and the success of future seeding operations. When harvesting, try to achieve a uniform pattern of residue (straw and chaff) spread across a wide area behind the combine. 

Most combine manufacturers offer optional straw choppers that provide satisfactory spread of up to 30-35 feet. This is typically the easiest and most effective residue management technique.

"Keep It Clean"

“Keep it Clean” is a collaborative, cross-commodity initiative to help remind farmers about the importance of producing quality crops to maintain our reputation for excellence in domestic and international markets. The campaign provides guidelines and tips to ensure contract specifications and shipping requirements are met. 

View the "Keep It Clean - Cereals" Campaign

Straight-cut vs. swath

The decision to swath or straight-cut your barley crop comes down to a careful evaluation of a number of factors, including the weather and the progression of the harvest season. For instance, you may elect to dry down your barley crop by swathing.

When producing barley for malt, it is not recommended to lay the barley in a swath for longer than four to six days to avoid peeling or cracked kernels.

If you decide to swath, wait until the heads have lost their green colour and have a moisture content of 30 per cent or lower. Swath around green patches to avoid having the sample from the field turned down because of green or immature kernels.

If late-sown grain fails to mature and green patches persist, it can be harvested between 25-35 per cent moisture. However, it must then be handled and stored as a high moisture feed grain.

Equipment specifications
To produce high quality barley for malt, you must constantly check and properly adjust the combine to the varying conditions of the swath and weather throughout the day. Depending on the conditions, using slower cylinder speed and increasing the concave clearance can decrease the chances of damaged kernels.

Barley should be swathed at a height of 15 to 20 cm so as to lay a windrow that is light enough to dry and to decrease the combine straw load. Lodged barley must be swathed at or near maturity, and windrowed to allow the green plants to dry before being threshed. Swathers should be equipped with pick-up reels or extended cutter-bar guards to lift the grain before it is cut.

Given the difference in farm equipment specifications, it is critically important to refer to the manufacturer’s operating manual before harvesting.