Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom

Facts About Grains

barley / corn / oats / rye / sorghum / triticale / wheat


  • Barley is the fourth most important grain crop in the United States.

  • Barley is one of the most ancient of cultivated grains. It was first discovered growing as a wild grass throughout Asia thousands of years ago. It was later cultivated and consumed by the Chinese as one of their first commercially-grown commodities.

  • Grains found in pits and pyramids in Egypt indicate that barley was cultivated there more than 5000 years ago. The most ancient glyph or pictograph found for barley is dated about 3000 B.C. Numerous references to barley are found in the earliest Egyptian and Sumerian writings.

  • Egyptians and Greeks in ancient times consumed barley for medicinal purposes as well as for a nourishing food source.

  • Christopher Columbus may have brought barley to North America on his journey to the New World.

  • Half or more of the barley grown in the United States is used for livestock feed. As feed it is nearly equal in nutritive value to kernel corn. It is especially valuable as hog feed, giving desirable portions of firm fat and lean meat. The entire kernel is used in feed, generally after grinding or steam rolling. Malt sprouts from malting as well as brewers grain--byproducts of brewing--are also valuable livestock feeds. Barley is also grown as a hay crop in some areas.

  • Most barley for human food is made into pearl barley. Barley flour, flakes, and grits may be found in health food and specialty stores. Barley is
    also used as a commercial ingredient in prepared foods such as breakfast cereals, soups, pilaf mixes, breads, cookies, crackers and snack bars.

  • Barley malt flour is an ingredient in nearly all baking flours that are used to
    make breads and other baked goods


  • Oats are a cereal grain used primarily as food for livestock, especially horses. In Oklahoma most of the oats planted are used for either pasture or baled for hay. Most goes to feed the state's equine population.

  • A now obsolete Middle English name for oats was haver, which survives in the name of the livestock feeding bag haversack.

  • The plants make excellent straw, and the hulls are a source of the chemical furfural, used as an industrial solvent.

  • Only about 5 percent of oats are consumed by humans, chiefly in the form of rolled oats or oatmeal for breakfast foods. Oats do not contain the glutenous type of protein necessary for making bread

  • Quaker Oats, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is the largest cereal company in the world.

  • The early history of oats is obscure, but domestication is considered to be recent compared to that of the other grains–perhaps c.2500 During the Bronze Age, the time when horses were first used as draft animals, oats were widely grown in N Europe but were apparently still uncultivated by the civilizations around the Mediterranean.

  • Theophrastus and Pliny believed that oats were a diseased form of wheat.

  • Oats were once considered a weed which grew with barley and wheat.

  • Oats were introduced into the Americas in 1602 by a sea captain who planted them in one of the islands off the coast of Massachusetts.


  • Acreage planted to rye in Oklahoma is primarily used as pasture for the state's large cattle industry. However, Oklahoma is usually the top producing state in rye grain production. Rye harvested for grain in Oklahoma usually totals over a million bushels. Much of this grain is used as seed to replant next year's crop or is shipped out-of-state by the seed industry.

  • Cereal rye is an erect annual grass with greenish blue, flat blades and an extensive fibrous root system. It resembles wheat, but usually is taller (3 5 ft) and tillers less.

  • Cereal rye is the most winter-hardy of all cereal grains, enduring temperatures as low as -30°F once established. It can germinate and grow at temperatures as low as 33°F; however, optimal temperatures are much higher.

  • Cereal rye tolerates drought better than do the other cereal grains, in part because of its extensive root system. It grows best with ample moisture, but excessive moisture during the fall and winter suppresses vegetative growth.

  • Cereal rye may be used as a cover crop, grain, hay, or pasture.


  • Triticale is a cross between wheat and rye. Although wheat-rye hybrids date back to 1875, it was only in 1953 that the first North American triticale breeding program was initiated, at the University of Manitoba.

  • Triticale grains, flours, and prepared products are available through both health food and commercial outlets on a limited basis.

  • Triticale has a savory, nutty flavor and is often included in prepared mixed-grain hot and cold cereals, muffin flours, pancake mixes and crackers.

  • Poland, Germany, China, and France account for nearly 90 percent of world triticale production.

  • In the US and globally, triticale is used primarily for livestock feed.

  • In Mexico, triticale is used mostly for whole-grain tricale breads and tortillas.

  • Triticale is a desirable plant for use in the production of Ethanol because it has high starch content and no hull, making alcohol production more efficient.

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Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom is a program of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Oklahoma State Department of Education.