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Barley Days:

Hulse Westhope, Life as a Former Farm Boy, Chapter: An Agrarian Gift.


Retired when I met him, Sam Jr. had run a successful farm machinery business. Selling farm equipment isn’t that far afield from farming, but far enough to offer a degree of certainty impossible for farmers.  But then, one needs to consider the uncertain rewards of farmers. The single barley plant that Sam Lykken nurtured to maturity yielded eighteen kernels.  Sam Jr. said, “I distinctly remember him shelling it out at the kitchen table.”

                Eventually, Sam Lykken offered some of the barley he’d grown to agronomists at the North Dakota Agricultural College, now North Dakota State University, to use for testing and breeding.  When the refined barley became available to upper midwestern farmers during the 1940’s it carried the name Kindred, Lykken’s hometown.

                There were four rust epidemics in the 1950’s, but damage to the region’s barley crop was negligible.  Steffenson, the plant pathologist, explained that what made Kindred special was its “T-gene,” which enabled resistance to the wheat stem rust fungus that attacks both wheat and barley.  The fungus constantly adapts to its environment and eventually overcomes a plant’s defenses. Both decades later, the Kindred T-gene still helps protect upper mid-western barley varieties.

                Lykken’s selection of what became Kindred barley has to be the most significant contribution to barley production in the Upper Midwest during the twentieth century, Steffenson said.  He stressed, “Farmers will no obtain good yields or malt quality unless there is rust protection in the varieties they grow.  The savings to growers must have been in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

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