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Published February 28, 2009, 08:21 PM

Easy-to-grow crop, hard-to-grow quality

Recent reports by the Institute of Barley and Malt Science in Fargo, state that the demand for malting barley is increasing throughout the U.S. While barley is grown throughout the state, area officials said it’s difficult to grow malting quality barley in the area.

By: Beth Wischmeyer, The Dickinson Press

Recent reports by the Institute of Barley and Malt Science in Fargo, state that the demand for malting barley is increasing throughout the U.S. While barley is grown throughout the state, area officials said it’s difficult to grow malting quality barley in the area.

The demand for malting barley contributes to its profitability in North Dakota according to 2009 crop budgets, developed by North Dakota State University Agricultural Extension Service. 

When compared to spring wheat, durum, corn, soybeans, canola and sunflowers for oil, malting barley posts the highest per acre return in three of six western crop budget regions, and is second in the other three western regions.  It comes in third next to soybeans and durum in the three regions to the east and southeast, according to NDSU information.

Nationally, the institute reports that although the use of malt by U.S. brewers over the last 20 years has declined, numbers started increasing in 2006 and 2007 and continues in 2008, with high probability of an increase in the coming years.

Glenn Martin, agronomy research specialist with the Dickinson Research Extension Center, said the crop is easy to grow, but is difficult to get the barley up to malting quality.

“That has to do with dry conditions, temperatures and our weather conditions here,” Martin said.

About 15 of the varieties being tested at the extension center include malting varieties, and have fared well, Martin said.

“There are some that are strictly feed varieties and there are others that are for multiple use,” Martin said. “Each year we put in trial. Last year there was 25 varieties, we can go anywhere from 23 to 33 varieties.”

The American Malting Barley Association reports that while 20 years ago the major use of barley was to feed livestock, as acreage and production have decreased the use of barley for feed, use by brewers has remained somewhat stable.

To ensure a good quality malting barley, Martin said the center will give the crops a lower fertilizer rate than feed barley and add proteins.

“There are some lines out that genetically will have lower proteins,” Martin said. “That is what they are working in the breeding programs, to get lower proteins in the varieties for the malting industry.”

Varieties developed by NDSU have been picked up by such companies as Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Company, Martin said.

For good malting quality barley, Martin said a low test rate, low protein count and malting time are all considered by brewing companies.

A number of years is required for barley to be accepted by various brewing companies.

“It takes quite a few years to get a variety released, and in order for them to accept it they have to do pilot scale testing and so on and so forth,” Martin said. “They do that to make sure it won’t change the flavor of their beer or their process that they are using to make it, so it does take a long time.”

Martin said in other parts of North Dakota, malting barley used to be more abundant.

“It used to be more prevalent before they started getting more disease problems in the east,” Martin said. “They were always looking at higher yields, lower test weights and lower proteins, but now in this area there is a lot less disease pressure than say Jamestown or out east.”

Projected crop budgets for 2009, released by NDSU, inlcude malting barley prices along with other crops. To view these budgets, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ecguides.html.

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