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Idaho reclaims top barley state title

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

Idaho has reclaimed its place as the top barley state in 2013. Malt contracting in 2014 is underway, but prices have been a bit down.

During a year in which national barley production shrank by 2 percent to 215 million bushels, Idaho increased its crop by 4 percent and reclaimed its former status as the country’s top barely state.

Idaho barley growers produced 55.8 million bushels in 2013, up from 46.5 million bushels, according to a Sept. 30 USDA report.

The Gem State was No. 1 in barley production in 2011 before being supplanted last season by North Dakota. This season, North Dakota growers produced the second largest U.S. barley crop, with 46.08 million bushels. Montana was third on the list, with 44.82 million bushels, followed by Washington, with 13.23 million bushels.

Statewide, Idaho’s yields increased by 2 bushels per acre to 93 bushels per acre, and harvested acres increased 2 percent to 600,000 acres.

Bryon Reed, an Idaho Falls grower who uses irrigation, sees significance in Idaho’s status as the top barley state, believing it will lead to greater attention and prestige for the industry.

Reed said Idaho’s production increase would have been much higher, but the hot summer reduced the plumpness of kernels in eastern Idaho, reducing yields by about 10 percent in that region.

Kelly Olson, Idaho Barley Commission administrator, said Idaho’s overall barley quality was good, but variability was a bit greater than normal, particularly in irrigated fields.

“Overall, given the climactic conditions, it was a challenging growing year. It probably affected proteins and plumps a little more than we’ve seen on average,” Olson said, adding rejection rates by malting companies were higher, but Idaho’s acceptance rate of more than 90 percent still led the country.

Heavy rains posed a challenge for some eastern Idaho dryland growers harvesting barley late in the season. Caribou County dryland grower Jerry Brown estimates harvesting of about 3,000 barley acres in his county was delayed due to rain. Brown helped a cousin in the area finish his barley harvest on Oct. 7.

“I’m a little bit concerned about sprout damage to the malt barley with all of the rain we’ve had,” Brown said.

Olson said the malting companies are now out “aggressively contracting” in Idaho for 2014 acres, and the acreage they need should be about the same.

“The price is going to be down from 2013. That’s just a function of commodity prices across the board,” Olson said. “General feed barley prices have definitely come down. Those are tied to corn.”

Anheuser-Busch InBev has implemented an auction format for awarding malt barley contracts. Reed said no growers placed bids during an Oct. 9 auction until the price reached $6.27 per bushel, and the company shut down the auction after accepting some bids at that level.

“That kind of told us what they want to do,” Reed said. “We would love the price to be a little higher.”


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