Producing sufficient food for nine billion people by 2050 will be constrained by soil salinity, especially in irrigated systems. To improve crop yield, greater understanding of the genetic control of traits contributing to salinity tolerance in the field is needed. Here, we exploit natural variation in exotic germplasm by taking a genome-wide association approach to a new nested association mapping population of barley called HEB-25. The large population (1,336 genotypes) allowed cross-validation of loci, which, along with two years of phenotypic data collected from plants irrigated with fresh and saline water, improved statistical power. We dissect the genetic architecture of flowering time under high salinity and we present genes putatively affecting this trait and salinity tolerance. In addition, we identify a locus on chromosome 2H where, under saline conditions, lines homozygous for the wild allele yielded 30% more than did lines homozygous for the Barke allele. Introgressing this wild allele into elite cultivars could markedly improve yield under saline conditions. © 2016 The Author(s).