Breeding colored wheat and barley for nutrition and novelty for low-input integrated farms

In western Washington growers utilize small grains as a rotational crop to break disease and pest cycles as well as resting the soil between more intensive, and profitable, crops. We are breeding barley and wheat for nutritional content and end-use quality, using novel color traits to differentiate the crop and increase the antioxidant content of the grain. Unique color traits will distinguish grains grown in this region and the quality characteristics will make them desirable to bakers, chefs, brewers, and consumers. Farmers, processors, and consumers have expressed a desire for colored grains but there are not currently any varieties suited to the region. This research will include the introgression of color traits into adapted varieties, selection of colored germplasm under organic conditions, and the characterization of the nutritional and baking profile of colored grains. Funding will be used for processing samples and nutritional testing to advance material we have developed, towards releasing adapted varieties.

Grant Information

  • Project ID: 148
  • Project Status: Complete


  • Principal Investigator(s): Jones, S.
  • Investigator(s): Curwen-McAdams, C., Meints, B.
  • Grant Amount: $35,208
  • 2015 Progress Report (PDF)


• Brigid Meints (Co-PI) gave a presentation at the Organic Seed Growers Conference in 2016 and included this project in her proceedings paper. This was published on the Organic Seed Alliance website (
• Brigid Meints presented a poster at the International Barley Genetics Symposium (IBGS) in 2016 on colored barley and submitted an abstract: The same poster was presented at the Organicology Conference in 2017.
• Brigid Meints presented a poster on antioxidant capacity in colored barley at the North American Barley Researcher’s Workshop in 2017 (abstracts posted :
• Work from this project was presented at the WSU Mount Vernon Small Grains Field Day (June 2016 and 2017), with abstracts posted at: Data from the field trials will be published at
• Colin Curwen-McAdams presented this research at Washburn University to faculty in students as an invited lecture November 2016.
• Colin Curwen-McAdams presented on this work to the Seattle EPA office in May 2017.
• Brigid Meints and Colin Curwen-McAdams participated in the Culinary Breeding Network event (~400 attendees) in October of 2016 and 2017 where grain from this work was prepared by chefs and bakers and presented to the public for tasting.
• The WSU Bread Lab Instagram account (@wsu_bread_lab) has shared photos from this research project.

Additional Funds Leveraged

$7500 from the Northwest Agricultural Research Foundation (NARF) to work on Colored Barley (Received in 2016 and 2017).

This work contributed to a successful OREI grant on breeding naked food barley for organic systems in collaboration with Oregon state University.


• Short-Term: In the short term, this research will result in nutritional values and baking quality standards that can be used as targets for future breeding and genetic work.
• Intermediate-Term: Collaborating with growers, processors, and end-users will make them aware of the potential of colored grains and give us knowledge about how novel grains might add value to their operations. Trials on local organic farms will help us shape the agronomics, and working with local millers, bakers, and maltsters will develop the network through which the grains can be sold.
• Long-Term: Ultimately, this research will result in a better understanding of the relationship between colored seed coats and nutritional content of the grain. It will also allow farmers in this region access to adapted grains that don’t fit into the commodity system and thus allow for added value. Because of the novel seed coat colors, these new varieties will be distinguishable and unique to this region. Locally bred and established varieties will contribute to a strong regional grain economy that benefits farmers, processors, bakers, and chefs.