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U.S. barley production a casualty of drought, decreased acreage

Demand for malting barley will be strong in 2022 as buyers seek to shore up supplies.

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Barley production across the United States declined in 2021 as a result of drought conditions and low acreage. Photo taken July 15, 2021 in Moorhead, Minn.
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GRAND FORKS, NORTH DAKOTA — A drastic decline in 2021 U.S. barley production has resulted in a favorable outlook for demand in 2022.

Buyers of malting barley will be seeking acreage to ensure that they have adequate supplies to brew, said Mark Black, of Malteurop in Great Falls, Montana.

“You can’t malt rocks. You can’t malt wheat. You can’t malt corn,” Black told a room filled with farmers gathered for the Prairie Grains conference in Grand Forks.

The conference, held Dec. 8 and Dec. 9,and sponsored by the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers, North Dakota Grain Growers Association and Minnesota Barley, included production and marketing information about wheat, soybeans and barley.

Total 2021 U.S. barley production of 105 million bushels was the lowest in a century and about 40% lower than 2020, Black said.

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In 2021, production of two-row malting barley dropped 20% in North Dakota, 40% in Montana and 30% in Idaho, where 80% of the crop is grown under irrigation, Black said. Six-row malting barley production in North Dakota dropped by 20%.

The drop in total barley production in 2021 not only was the result of the drought that trimmed yields, but also because of a decrease in acreage.

Farmers harvested a total of 1.94 million bushels of barley in 2021, 270,000 fewer acres than in 2020. As a result of the declining acreage barley production, which peaked in 1970, has dropped so much since then that now the portion of it that is used for malting is considered a specialty crop.

The reduction in overall U.S. barley acreage is the result of an increase in corn acreage which has displaced feed barley.

Challenges that the malting barley industry will face in 2022 include producing a sustainable supply of the crop, developing and maintaining long-term relationships between farmers and buyers, and geographically diversifying the growing area, Black said.

Weather will influence production in 2022 as western barley states, where moisture is short, will need snowpack and North Dakota and Minnesota, spring rains, to germinate the crop, he said.

Beer companies will be innovative as they encourage U.S. farmers to plant barley in 2022 because there will be no carryover from the 2021 crop, Black predicts..

“People may be doing things we’ve never done before because we have to,” he said.” We’ve got to find a way to feed these plants.”

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While the supply of malting barley fluctuates, the demand for beer and other alcoholic beverages from U.S. consumers has remained steady in 2021, said Lester Jones, National Beer Wholesalers chief economist.

“Overall, the theme of this year is ‘no matter how much things change, they stay the same,’” Jones said. “For the most part, we as a country are very reliable consumers of alcoholic beverages.”

In 2020, U.S. consumers , ages 21 years and older drank 26.1 gallons of beer and cider per person, according to the National Beer and Beverage Wholesalers Association.

While craft breweries have grown in popularity and are springing up in small towns and large cities across the United States, major companies dominate the industry.

In 2020, there were 6,406 brewing plants in the United States, but more than 90% of them made fewer than 15,000 barrels or 4650,000 gallons of beer, which accounted for about 3% of the total volume.

About a quarter of the breweries were brewpubs that, for the most part, brew beer for sales directly to consumers on the brewery-restaurant premises, according to the NBWA.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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