Bere differs in many ways from modern barley varieties:
• Amongst barley grown in Britain, Bere develops and matures very rapidly, so that it is often the earliest variety to be harvested in Orkney. This is an advantage in the north of Scotland as late-maturing crops can sometimes be damaged or lost as a result of wet, windy weather in September and October. Fig.1 shows Bere and a modern barley in July 2014 – although both were planted on the same day, Bere is at a later stage of development. A disadvantage of early varieties, however, is that they usually yield less grain because of their shorter growing period.
• In common with many old types of cereal, Bere has much longer straw than modern varieties (which have been bred for short straw) – the straw alone can be 1.2 m in length and when the head is added to this, some plants can have a total height of about 1.4 m. Modern barley varieties may only have a straw length of 0.5-0.6 m (see Fig. 2).
• Apart from being long, the straw of Bere is weak and after head emergence this makes it very susceptible to lodging (falling over) in wet and windy conditions. If Bere lodges flat, it can be very difficult or impossible to harvest, but partial lodging is not a serious problem and sometimes protects the grain from being stripped from the head in strong winds (See Fig. 3). Lodging in Bere is aggravated by nitrogen fertilizer and so crops are usually grown with low levels of nitrogen to reduce the risk of this. This contributes to the lower grain yield of Bere compared with modern varieties.