Idaho could lead U.S. again in barley

Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Idaho barley acres and production are expected to be in line with the 2013 totals and the Gem State could retain its title as the top barley producer in the United States.

BOISE — Idaho barley industry leaders believe the state will retain its spot as the nation’s top barley producer in 2014.

“We have every reason to believe we will be No. 1 again,” said Idaho Barley Commission Administrator Kelly Olson.

Until 2011, North Dakota was traditionally the nation’s No. 1 barley producing state. Idaho gained that spot in 2011 but North Dakota regained its traditional top spot in 2012.

Idaho barley production increased 4 percent in 2013 to 55.8 million bushels and Idaho again took the No. 1 spot from North Dakota, which produced 46.08 million bushels.

Idaho barley farmers harvested 600,000 acres last year and Olson expects that number to be about the same this year.

“I’m anticipating we will hold our own in 2014 and we may be slightly up,” she said.

East Idaho barley farmer and IBC member Dwight Little agrees.

“I think there will be as many acres as last year if not a few more,” said Little, who attended the National Barley Growers Association’s winter meeting Feb. 24-26 and spoke with his counterparts from North Dakota and Montana, the two states that could challenge Idaho this year.

“If we have a good crop, we’ll probably be in the No. 1 position again this year,” Little said. “But that’s tentative and depends on how people plant this spring.”

Malt barley prices are down compared with last year but not as much as other competing row and grain crops in Idaho, Olson said.

Little said malt contracts for this season weren’t as good as last year but they’re still good and fair compared with other commodities.

“Being that other grain prices have been on the downswing, I think the prices they came out with were fair,” he said.

Feed barley prices are another story and that will impact feed barley acres, said IBC member Clay Kaasa.

More than 75 percent of Idaho’s barley crop is produced for malting.

“Feed barley acres are going to be nothing but malt barley should be competitive against other competing crops in east Idaho,” said Kaasa, the area manager for Great Western Malting Co.

While North Dakota growers are dependent on the weather, Idaho’s malt barley is grown under irrigated conditions and Gem State production has been more stable from year to year.

Montana growers will plant more acres this year but average yields are much higher in Idaho and should be enough to keep Idaho in the No. 1 spot, Olson said.

“If all the stars align for Montana, they could be No. 1 … but we’re confident that Idaho will retain that spot this year,” she said.

Ongoing drought conditions in southern and eastern Idaho could be one possible limiting factor for Idaho growers, Little said.

“Nobody knows for sure how much water we’re going to wring out of our reservoir systems,” he said. “It all depends on how the weather pattern plays out this spring and summer.”



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