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An Introduction
Barley is a cereal grain used in large proportions as an animal feed, while the rest is used as a malt in whiskey or sugar as well as health food. Barley belongs to the family of 'poaceae', a plant commonly known as grass. It is available in a variety of forms like whole barley, hulled barley, pearled barley as well as barley flakes. It is a rich source of metals like zinc, copper, phosphorous, etc. as well as other nutrients like calcium and iron.

History of Barley
Barley was considered to be the first ever cereal crop to be domesticated. Along with emmer wheat, a low yielding awned wheat, barley was a staple cereal crop of ancient Egypt, dating back to as far as 5000 BC and even earlier than that. At that time the main use of barley was limited to making beer and bread. From eating, the importance of barley even extended to having religious significance in Europe and ritual significance in ancient Greece.

Barley was also a preferred a form of cereal for the Roman gladiators and seafaring Vikings. The importance of barley grew intense in the 15th century, when Christopher Columbus brought the crop from Europe to North America in the year 1493 and has remained the most frequently cultivated crop since then.

Uses of Barley
Barley commands a wide range of usage. Some of these uses are:
  • Animal Feed: Barley, being a good source of protein, is used as a feed for the livestock. The barley used as an animal feed is either rolled, grounded, flaked or pelleted. These products are given in the form of grain, silage, or straw to dairy and beef cattle. The by-products of malted barley are also used in the form of animal feed
  • Human Consumption: A wide variety of barley products are known to be suitable for human consumption. These include porridge, muesli, cookies, etc. made of barley flakes, cereals made of barley bran, and muffins, cookies, breads, pasta, etc. made of barley flour
  • Malted Barley: Barley is malted to be used in alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, etc. Apart from this, the malted barley is also used as flavors, sweeteners, malt extracts, malt flours, etc.

  • Other Uses: Apart from being used as an eatable, barley is also used in many other fields like industries and agriculture. The barley straw is used to make the bed for the livestock, while bales of barley are used in making paper, fiberboard, etc. The starch present in barley is used in making paper, paper starch based detergents, bio-degradable plastics, etc.
Composition of Barley
Barley is the world's most nutritional crop and is recommended for children during their growing up stage. This is because barley contains many elements that are rich sources of health and energy. The composition of barley, excluding the percentage of salt, gives a general idea about its uses in every day life. Barley contains about 15% water, 12.98% of nitrous compounds, 6.74% of gum, 3.2 % of sugar, 60% (approx.) of starch and 2.2% of fat.

Benefits of Barley
Barley is considered to be the most nutritional cereal, comprising of the right quantity of all the vital nutrients. Fiber contains two types of nutrients, namely, soluble and insoluble fiber. The soluble fiber helps in lowering the level of cholesterol by eliminating the fatty acids, while the insoluble fiber keeps the digestive system in a proper order, thereby avoiding the risk of dreadful diseases like colon cancer. Pearl barley is a rich source of protein, fiber and other nutrients, and helps in maintaining health and vitality. Barley water is known to have many medicinal properties and helps in quick healing of many diseases and ailments.
The carbohydrates present in barley help in the regulation of the glucose level. Since barley has fiber levels, five times more than that of the other whole grains, it helps in steadying the sugar level as well. Barley is filled with many important nutrients like Vitamin B, Vitamin E and folic acid. Another major benefit of having barley is that it helps in reducing the body weight, as it makes a food appetite suppressant, making one feel filled and satisfied.
Products Made of Barley
Barley, grows from a seed of a ripe plant which is almost 1 meter tall. Using the different parts of the plant, a wide variety of products can be made. For example, the grain or kernel of the the plant is used to make flour, flakes, etc. The barley grain in this case, is milled by crushing the seed kernel and segregating the inside part of the kernel, known as endosperm, where the food is stored from the outside part known as bran. To make the flour, the endosperm is then grounded in a fine manner.

Barley grain can also be polished or pearled by removing the hull which is inedible from the kernel. From this process, we get a product known as pearl barley and pot barley. The straw of barley is used to make dry fodder for the livestock, which is obtained by removing the head that hold the grain kernel. Apart from being used as a fodder, it is also used in making building material, paper, newsprint and fiberboard.

Another product that we get from barley is termed as barley grit which is obtained from pearled or whole grain barley  kernel and is cut into small pieces. The kind of barley used in making beer and as flavors and sweeteners is known as malted barley. To get the malted barley, the barley kernels are soaked and dryed and are then germinated or sprouted in a controlled environment.

Barley Disease
Barley is prone to a wide range of diseases which can be categorized as fungal, bacterial, viral, parasitic, etc. The various types of disease that come in these categories are:

  • Basal Glume Blotch: The bacteria that causes this disease is known as Pseudomonas Atrofaciens. A dull brownish-black discolored area is found at the the base of the glumes that cover the kernel and is seen to be more prominent in the inside part and that on the outside part of the afflicted glume. Depending on the force with which the disease affects the crop, the dicolouration of the base varies from light brown to charcoal black. The leaves, in this case, show small, water soaked spots, that, as time passes by, get enlarged and turn yellow in colour. In the end, they turn brown in colour as the tissues die. However, these diseases can be cured by making use of clean, fresh seeds
  • Bacterial Blight: It is caused by a bacteria known as Xanthomonas campestris. In this disease, small, pale green spots appear in the the lesion, i.e the abnormal tissues. These lesions then expand, and begin to appear as dead spots. The bacteria that causes this infection remains deep rooted in the soil and water and is spread by rains that are driven by wind. Deep afflicted infections are caused by splashing of bacterial ooze by drop rains
  • Net Blotch: Net Blotch is yet another disease in which the leaves appear to be afflicted the most. It is caused by the fungus known as Pyrenophora Teres, which leave certain spots on the leaves of barley. The spots in the leaves appear in a netted pattern, appearing in longitudinal lines of brown pigments. These elongated area finally covers the whole leaf, thereby rendering it useless. Some of the methods used in preventing this disease include crop rotation, seed treatment, etc.
  • Powdery Mildew: Caused by another fungus known as Erysiphe Graminis, the infections appears on the upper surface of the leaves and leave sheaths. On these leaves, there are certain gray, fluffy threads of the fungus, which destroy the whole plant slowly. While fungicides are an effective way of resisting these diseases, they are not always economical. There are, however, some resistant varieties, available to control their disease.
Barley Production in India
The cultivation of barley in India is mainly concentrated in  the areas of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Barley production in India is a mere 1.33 million tonnes out of a total grain production of 219 million tonnes. In 2007-08, the total area for barley cultivation was 0.77 million hectares, while the production was estimated at 1.31 million tonnes. With an increased area in cultivation, it is believed that barley cultivation would accelerate in the near future. Although the feed portion would remain stable, the food, seed and industrial use would go up at a substantial rate.