Grain Farmers of Ontario, the organization that represents corn, soy, and wheat farmers in this province, has announced that it will now also represent barley and oat growers. I thought that this might be a good idea to explain how to tell the difference between barley, oats, and wheat–three very similar-looking cereal crops.
It’s hardest to tell one crop from another in the vegetative stage (as the plant is growing leaves and tillers, prior to producing a head with seeds on it). In order to tell what crop is in the field farmers and agronomists look for the crop’s “auricles”. Barley has a BIG auricle, Oats have no auricle and wheat has a hairy auricle.
Another way to determine which crop is in the field is whether or not the leaf sheaf is hairy. Barley and oats most likely will not have hair on the leaves (although some varieties might). Wheat, on the other hand, will have fine hairs on the leaves, very similar to how it has the same on the wheat auricle.
One final, fool-proof method is by looking directly down over the plants. If the leaf blades have a counter-clockwise twist to them, they are oats; if they have a clockwise twist to them, then they are barley or wheat. Oats are the only cereal that has a counter-clockwise twist to the leaf. Once the crops get to their reproductive stage the head of each particular plant help determine which crop it is.