Non-structural storage carbohydrates were measured in 9-day-old barley (Hordeum vulgare L. cv. Brant) primary leaves. Accumulation rates of starch, sucrose and total non-structural carbohydrates (TNC) were approximately linear when measured between 2- and 12-h of light. Progressively higher TNC accumulation rates were observed at higher irradiance levels (i.e., comparing 250, 550 and 1050 ·mol m−2 s−1). Synthesis of a low-molecular-weight fructan also was enhanced by high irradiances. Low irradiance treatments decreased leaf sucrose levels and there was a corresponding increase in the lag period preceding starch synthesis in the light. Increased starch accumulation rates were usually observed when sucrose concentrations were high. These and other results suggested that cytosolic sucrose concentrations affected starch metabolism in the chloroplast. However, sucrose accumulation rates increased and starch storage decreased when barley seedlings were transferred from 20 to 10°C during the light period. Lowering the night temperature from 20 to 10°C for a single dark period 8-days after planting increased the TNC content of barley primary leaves at the beginning of day nine. In this experiment, TNC accumulation rates of treated and untreated leaves were similar. Changes in the accumulation rate of TNC were usually observed within 2- to 4-h after barley seedlings were exposed to altered environmental conditions. Monitoring rapid changes in leaf carbohydrate levels is a sensitive method for assessing the effects of environmental treatments on photosynthetic metabolism.