Teagasc is seeking more than 300 tillage growers to take part in a three-year research project on falling protein levels in malting barley.
Soil samples, grain samples, field history and management details will be needed from Irish commercial malting barley crops and feed barley crops for analysis by Dr Richie Hackett at Teagasc Oak Park.
Low protein levels have been an escalating problem in malting barley crops for the past two years, with many falling below the required level for the industry.
Speaking at the National Tillage Conference, Dr Hackett said that while changes to the Nitrates rules meant extra nitrogen was now allowed for spring malting barley crops, growers should know that fertiliser nitrogen only had a small effect on grain protein content.
He warned that where protein levels in crops had been acceptable in the past, there was no reason for farmers to apply extra fertiliser nitrogen, adding that extra nitrogen could cause problems such as lodging.
"To increase protein content by 1pc, say from 8pc to 9pc, would take 40-65kg N/ha," he said.
"This suggests that where low proteins are being obtained, it may not be economical to increase protein using fertiliser N."
Although lower fertiliser application has been blamed for falling protein levels, Dr Hackett insisted there could be multiple reasons for the drop.
"Variety, soil types, field history, growing conditions and weather conditions at harvest could all have an effect," he said.
Barley growers interested in taking part in the research should contact Dr Hackett at Oak Park on 059 917 0200.