Harvesting Barley

Harvesting Barley

Barley is a well-known grain that is used for malting and as a cereal. It only requires a few months to grow and harvesting barley is very easy once the season is over.

Harvesting Barley

Harvesting barley involves drying, cleaning, and storage. The equipment used for harvesting barley depends on the size of the farm and the yields. Small farms can get away with using scythes and sickles, harvesting by hand while others with bigger farms have to use combine harvesters.

Barley is typically ready to harvest when the stalks and heads have a golden colour and the seed heads are drooping to the ground.

It is important to not delay harvest as mature barley does not stand weather damage as well as wheat. When harvested, the barley kernels should be firm and not doughy in texture and feel.

There is a number of options and appropriate times for harvesting barley, depending on the intended end use for the crop and the conditions at harvest time. Barley can be harvested for silage, green feed, high moisture hay, feed grain and malt.

Mature malting barley should be harvested as close to maturity as possible to reduce pre harvest sprouting. Pre germination occurs when the grain has begun to mature and dry in the field but rain or dew is sufficient for the kernel to begin germinating. Barley should not dry and gain moisture before harvest.

Barley Yields

Barley grain yield is made up of three components which are grain weight, grain size and the number of grain stalks per square meter. High yields come from achieving the correct ear numbers, maintaining a healthy green leaf canopy, increasing grain numbers per ear and grain size. A balanced crop nutrition program including all macro and micro nutrients is essential to help manage all of these components.

Barley yields range based on the growing climate. Spring barley yields about 20% less than winter barley. For a reasonable yield, growers need at least 25 to 30 plants per square foot. When measuring yields, 40 bushels per acre is mediocre yield, 60 is relatively average, and 80 or higher is quite good.

For barley growers to achieve good yields, good weed control is essential as it allows for the crop to be more easily combined and stored. Good pre emergence weed control, timely spring seed, strong crop competition and weed seed bank control are important when a grower is managing the weeds. Herbicides can also be used as they provide broad leaf control as well as grass and mares tail control.

Nitrogen and potassium are the nutrients required in the highest quantity for maintaining high barley yields.

Moisture Content

It is advisable for farmers to begin harvesting barley when the moisture content is lower. This makes it easier to cut down the stalks. Barley requires at least two months for it to grow large enough to harvest and to have the largest grains possible. You can tell when the moisture levels are low enough for harvest by the golden colour.

Moisture content can be measured using the weight of the barley or an electronic moisture meter. Measuring moisture content levels is important for the wellbeing of your crop and the safety of your operations, when the barley is damp with a moisture content of more than 17%, it can quickly rot and produce heat in the storage space. High moisture barley must be stored immediately following harvest where either oxygen is excluded or the grain is treated with an organic acid to prevent rotting.

Harvesting barley at higher moisture rates requires that growers have a well-developed grain drying system that can move sufficient air and the right amount of heat if needed. Harvesting barley can be done before the advised moisture content percentage is reached in situations where weather factors dictate an earlier harvest date to prevent major losses due to crop damage.

Moisture content is supposed to be low enough to allow for threshing. Threshing machines work much faster for larger quantities.


The decision between straight cutting and swathing barley depends on the intended end use. Swathing is a means of speeding up the drying of the grain whilst maintaining quality. It is mostly useful when the chances of rainfall at harvest are very high. The process of harvesting barley is done with the moisture content ranging between 20-30% and it is allowed to dry in swaths until the moisture content is below 12.5%.

Swathing can be done when the moisture content is below the above-mentioned percentage and is usually better when it is done early because this prevents losses from shedding and lodging.

High yielding crops are most likely to gain more from swathing than low yielding crop. Precaution has to be taken when one is choosing this method of harvesting barley because when done too early when the grain is not fully developed, swathing will give small pinched grain.


Barley kernels need to be of high quality, uniform, clean and above all else, they need to be alive. They need to be stored in several small granaries as opposed to one large one to allow for quicker and more even drying of the crop.

Steel granaries are easier to maintain, more rodent proof and less susceptible to insect infestation than wood granaries. After harvesting, barley must not be stored in dirty granaries or granaries that contain older grain. Growers are encouraged to thoroughly clean their granaries before they can bring in newly harvested grains.

To ensure that the grains are safe for consumption, growers should use natural insecticides so that the barley is not contaminated with chemicals. Spoiled grain should not be used for feed, it contains toxins that endanger both animals and humans.

Temporary storage using grain bags can be more economical when storing high volumes of grain but it has to be noted that there is high susceptibility to damage. Grain bags require regular inspection to ensure that there are no tears and holes.

Drying Barley

After harvesting, barley requires two to three weeks for it to dry up properly. Drying barley is very important because prevents rot and the development of diseases in storage. Barley can be dried through aeration, natural grain drying and the use of commercial grain dryers. Temperatures must be carefully monitored because too much heat will damage the grains and will also compromise the quality.