Why bother with Bere? An investigation into the drivers behind the cultivation of a landrace barley

Niamh Mahon, Shawn McGuire, Md. Mofakkarul Islam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


Why would the farmers in a developed, Western country, dominated by an industrialised agriculture, choose to grow a traditional crop variety? This study aimed to explore this question through an investigation of the reasons why a traditional landrace barley e known as Bere e was still grown in the Scottish islands of Orkney and Shetland. Cultivated barley is one of the oldest and most widely grown cereals in the world and plays a significant role in global food security. However, since the beginning of the 20th century the genetic diversity in cultivated barley has been in decline as traditional varieties are replaced with modern cultivars. Traditional varieties, such as landraces, are an important genetic resource, and there is a growing interest in their in situ conservation, both in Europe and internationally. The success of such activities would benefit from a proper understanding of the factors that drive farmers’ motivations to maintain barley landraces on their farms and this study intended to fill the knowledge gap that existed in this regard in a European context. Interviews were conducted with Bere growers and representatives of the food manufacturing industry on the islands to discover why they valued this crop. This was complemented by insights from agricultural calendars, preference ranking tasks and photographic data. Thematic analysis of the data yielded four broad drivers of Bere cultivation: market demand, cultural and traditional values, adaptation to conditions, and use as a low-input crop. Preference ranking of these drivers showed their perceived relative importance and the variations in such perceptions between Orkney and Shetland. The paper concludes by discussing the implications of the findings for devising more effective in situ conservation strategies for barley landraces in Europe and further afield
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-65
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Rural Studies
Early online date17 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • Landraces
  • Crop genetic resources
  • n situ conservation
  • Drivers of farmer behaviour
  • Bere barley
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Agrobiodiversity
  • Europe

Cite this