There are hundreds of small grains. Which one is best?

Small grains have been an integral part of human history for tens of thousands of years. 75,0000 years ago, the inhabitants of western Asia began consuming einkorn and emmer, the ancestors to the wheat we know today. 21st century discoveries have revealed the earliest examples of grain silos in modern day Jordan, dating back 11,000 years! Today, small grains are known throughout the world of agriculture as flexible crops with dozens of uses— from forage, to seed production, to human consumption.

Small grains sold at Great Basin Seed are primarily for forage. Crops are grown to provide feed to animals. Wheat, rye, oats, triticale and barley are all examples. They produce strong yields dense in nutrients, while being tolerant to climate changes and disease.

But what should YOU plant? When should you plant it? Small grains are organized into classifications. Three classes, namely winter, spring, and facultative, refer to the varieties response to their environment and how they initiate their reproductive stages. Understanding these types will provide a great foundation to choosing the best small grain for your needs.

Twin Wheat
Twin Wheat
a guy standing in gree triticale with irrigation background, FX 1001 fall triticale, (X tritosecale) Scientific name: X tritosecale

To best understand the different small grain classes, you need to first understand two terms: cold acclimation (also know as hardening) and vernalization. It’s also helpful to reference the Feekes Growth Scale— a scientific scale that documents the life cycle and stages of plant growth.

If young plants have any hope of surviving harsh winter climate, they must first endure cooler temperatures early in their tillering or base growth stages. (Feekes Stages 3-4) This acclimation to cold temperatures, or hardening, allows the plant to reduce the moisture content of the crown, reduce the rate at which the plant accumulates carbohydrates, and reduce the plants overall rate of growth. Hardening generally begins around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and will often make or break the the winter survivability of small grains.

When plants are subjected to a long period of cold temperatures, they vernalize. Vernalization functions as a springboard into the plants flowering process, initiated by the cold. Vernalization requirements vary between grain varieties, but typically the process involves several weeks of sub 45 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. Once a plant’s vernalization requirement is met, they lay dormant until warmer conditions arrive. Springtime temperatures begin to rise and day length slowly increases, the plants will break their dormancy and continue to the next stages of growth. (Feekes Stage 5+) Vernalization is a crucial evolutionary adaptation to ensure that the plant does not initiate its reproductive stages before the winter season ends. The vernalization requirement ensures that the plant will remain dormant throughout (most of) the winter and will not initiate growth until the weather is suitable to continue plant growth.

Spring Grains

The first of three grain types is perhaps what is most commonly thought of, spring planting. Spring-type small grains are those that may be planted in the spring and harvested in the succeeding summer. Spring-type small grains typically have lower cold-tolerance than winter or facultative-type small grain varieties. Common spring-type small grains in the west include (INSERT PRODUCTS) spring oats, which are planted for grain or for forage. Spring-type small grains do not have the same vernalization requirements as winter-type, which allows them to proceed through their growth stages without a prolonged period of cold weather.

golden color of otana oat field in fall season. Scientific name: Avena sativa

Otana Oats

Twin Wheat

Twin Wheat

Lavina Barley

Lavina Barley

golden/green barley with straw Claymore Barley

Claymore Barley

Fall or Winter Grains

Fall or winter-type small grains are those that may be planted in the fall and harvested in the succeeding summer. Winter-type small grains have much higher winter hardiness than spring-type small grains and have adapted to cold winter months by entering a period of dormancy. Winter dormancy initiation is driven by several factors, notably colder temperatures and shorter day length periods (longer nights). Winter-type small grains must enter a period called vernalization to proceed through Feekes stages 5-11.

a guy standing in gree triticale with irrigation background, FX 1001 fall triticale, (X tritosecale) Scientific name: X tritosecale

FX 1001 Triticale

Ray Hard Red Winter Wheat

Ray Wheat

Valor Barley

Valor Barley

green furry looking wheatgrass, sunstar pride barley. Scientific name: Hordeum vulgare

Sunstar Pride Barley

Facultative Grains

Finally, facultative-type small grains are those that may be planted in the fall or spring and harvested in the following summer. This category consists largely of, but not exclusively of triticale. Their vernalization requirements are very low to non-existent, which is why they can progress through their growth stages regardless of planting date. These facultative type cereals may be advantageous to producers who plant small grains for forage but may have to save some seed until the spring to finish planting.

Motley Triticale

Motley Triticale

tall green straw with triticale Gunner-triticale

Gunner Triticale

Flex 719 Triticale

Flex 719 Triticale

Rye Grain

Rye Grain

Whatever your planting needs, Great Basin Seed is committed to helping you find the best product for your needs. For more information call (435) 283-1411.

Beards, Dwarf Beards and Awnlettes

Making Sense of Grain Beards

What is the difference between “bearded” and “dwarf beard” and “beardless” varieties? How do I choose the one best for me?

The table below will help you visualize the different characteristics of each variety, if they have beards (or not) and why it matters. See our BEARDED GRAINS blog post for additional information.

SpeciesVarietyPlanting SeasonBeard ExpressionComments
OatOtanaSpringBeardlessOats do not have a beard
OatMonidaSpringBeardlessOats do not have a beard
OatIntimidatorSpringBeardlessOats do not have a beard
OatMonicoSpringBeardlessOats do not have a beard
OatMagnumSpringBeardlessOats do not have a beard
OatEverleaf™ Falcon OatSpringBeardlessOats do not have a beard
OatEverleaf™ 126 OatSpringBeardlessOats do not have a beard
BarleyVaqueroSpringBeardlessMay express a beard up to 4/10,000 plants (.04%)
BarleySunstar DoubleSpringBeardedBearded forage barley
BarleyClaymoreSpringBeardedBearded forage barley
BarleyHaymakerSpringBeardlessForage barley
BarleyLavinaSpringBeardlessForage barley
BarleyGoldeneyeSpringBeardedGrain barley
BarleySunstar PrideFallBeardedFall forage barley
BarleyValorFallBeardlessFall forage barley
BarleyBaldwinFallAwnlettedBeard expression if planted after October 15
TriticaleMerlin Max™FacultativeBeardlessForage triticale
TriticaleGunner™FacultativeBeardlessForage triticale
Triticale131FallBeardlessForage triticale
Triticale 141 SpringAwnletted141 was used facultatively at high elevations
TriticaleLuomaFallAwnlettedForage triticale
TriticaleFlex 719™FacultativeAwnlettedForage triticale
TriticaleFX 1001FallNearly BeardlessFX 1001 may have up to 3% beard expression
TriticaleMotley™FacultativeNearly BeardlessForage triticale
WheatJeffersonSpringBeardedHard red grain wheat for milling
WheatTwinSpringBeardlessSoft white forage wheat
WheatBrundageFallBeardlessSoft white forage wheat
WheatRayFallBeardlessHard Red forage or milling wheat
WheatWillow CreekFallBeardlessHard Red forage or milling wheat
RyeRymin or VNS FacultativeBeardedCereal forage rye
PeasAustrian Winter PeasFacultativeBeardlessPeas do not have a beard
Grain MixtureFall Forage BlendFallBeardlessMay contain awnletted varieties
Grain MixtureProsper 3 Grain Forage MixtureSpringBeardlessForage mixture
Grain MixtureProsper Plus with PeasSpringBeardlessProsper with forage peas added