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Published November 05, 2012, 10:10 AM

Boosting barley acres

The North American brewing industry has long relied on domestic barley production to produce the beers enjoyed by consumers.

By: Karen Hertsgaard , Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The North American brewing industry has long relied on domestic barley production to produce the beers enjoyed by consumers.

U.S. production is almost exclusively dependent on six-rowed and two-rowed varieties that have been developed in North America. These varieties are adapted to the soil, weather patterns and disease pressure in different regions across the U.S. The diverse climatic conditions and broad geographic distribution of barley production reduces the chances of major supply shortages of malting barley.

The industry is dependent on all regions for the 115 million bushels of malting barley needed each year by the domestic brewing industry.

“Idaho, Montana and North Dakota are the major producing states in the U.S.,” according to Mike Davis, president of the American Malting Barley Association, “and each of these states has available cropland to respond to increases in industry demand.”

While each state has regional climatic conditions favorable to certain varieties, as a whole, Idaho may be well-positioned to respond to the need for two-rowed varieties that do well under irrigation. Montana is well-positioned for dryland two-rowed types, and North Dakota for six-rowed varieties. A number of other states such as Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming have regions where significant barley acreage exists. That acreage helps further expand the geographic distribution of malting barley production.

In some areas, malting barley has not been grown for many years, but is returning on a small scale. This production is being driven primarily by smaller brewers interested in sourcing their raw materials in state. Not only is production returning to these areas, but in some cases, small malting facilities are being constructed to meet these regional demands for malt. Expanding into these new areas is not as simple as contacting local farmers and supplying them with seed. It requires regional variety trials to determine which of the current malting types are best suited to that region. And some are crop production practices that need to be adjusted, such as fertilization, harvesting and storage, to achieve satisfactory quality.

In the end, there may be the need for the development of new varieties that are suitable for growing in these secondary production regions.

Editor’s Note: Hertsgaard is an information specialist at the Institute of Barley and Malt Sciences in the department of plant sciences at North Dakota State University in Fargo.