By JOHN O'CONNELL
Idaho's stint as the top barley-producing state was short-lived, even though its farmers increased their yields by nearly 7.2 million bushels.
A recent USDA report shows North Dakota resumed its typical position as the No. 1 barley state in 2012. North Dakota produced 61.61 million bushels, up from just 16.45 million bushels in 2011, when acreage was down and weather hurt yields.
Idaho finished as the No. 2 state with 53.69 million bushels. Montana was third with 41.87 million bushels.
Idaho Barley Commission Administrator Kelly Olson noted North Dakota stepped up its barley planting from 350,000 acres in 2011 to more than 1 million acres this season. Idaho planted 590,000 acres, a 90,000-acre increase from the prior year.
"It was not unexpected," Olson said of the change in ranking. "The malting and brewing companies put out aggressive contract acres in North Dakota this year."
Though North Dakota nearly tripled its acreage, Olson noted the state barely emerged ahead of Idaho, which has much higher yields. While Idaho growers with irrigation had yields of 91 bushels per acre on average, North Dakota irrigated growers had yields of 61 bushels.
"We're very confident Idaho is going to remain in the No. 2 spot, and some years we're going to be No. 1," Olson said.
Idaho's top variety was Conrad, grown for Anheuser-Busch.
Marc Thiel, an Idaho Falls farmer, said his family has grown barley for half a century. He believes Idaho's weather conditions are ideal for the crop.
"It surprises me that Idaho isn't No. 1, period," Thiel said. "We have a growing season here that is real favorable to barley. We don't have the crazy variations in weather other areas of the country do. We don't have the humidity other areas of the country do that leads to disease."
Thiel, who has opted to grow more barley than potatoes, describes barley in Idaho as "a sure thing."
"All of these cereal grains, as long as they're carrying their own weight I think they're a fantastic option," Thiel said.
Elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon growers produced 3.816 million bushels of barley, and Washington farmers grew 12.6 million bushels.
In California, growers produced 4.4 million bushels of barley.