By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Idaho is on pace to be the nation's top barley producing state this year, pending the outcome of a brutal heat wave that is blanketing much of the state.
Idaho knocked off North Dakota to become the No. 1 barley producing state in 2011 but North Dakota regained its traditional top spot in 2012.
But the same factors that caused North Dakota barley production to plummet in 2011 -- very poor planting conditions marked by wet and cold weather -- have plagued the state again this year.
According to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, Idaho growers expect to harvest 620,000 acres of barley in 2013, a 5 percent increase from 2012.
Montana growers expect to harvest 880,000 acres, up from 790,000 acres the previous year, while North Dakota farmers expect to harvest 710,000 acres, down significantly from 1.1 million acres in 2012.
Barley grown in Idaho yields significantly more than barley grown in those two states, so Idaho should regain the top spot this year, Idaho Barley Commission members said July 1 during their regular meeting.
About 80 percent of the barley produced in Idaho is grown under irrigation while North Dakota and Montana have a much higher percentage of dryland barley.
North Dakota produced 61.61 million bushels of barley last year, Idaho produced 53.69 million bushels and Montana was third with 41.87 million bushels.
Planted barley acres in Montana have increased significantly, from 700,000 in 2011 to 1 million this year, as a result of MillerCoors building a new elevator in that state.
The anticipated increase in Montana barley production this year was expected, "but we did not expect a 30 percent loss in North Dakota. That was unexpected," said IBC Administrator Kelly Olson.
A heat wave wilting Idaho farm country with 100-plus degree temperatures could have an impact on the state's barley production total in 2013 if it continues, said IBC Chairman Dwight Little.
"It depends on the next 10 days," he said. "If we have (high temperatures) for a while, it's going to affect everybody."
The crop looks very good right now, he added, "But you start talking 100 degrees, even if you have a good crop, it can change things fast."
Contracts and prices for Idaho barley growers have been good this year, Olson said.
"The industry stepped up in a big way to secure Idaho barley," she said.
Nationally, harvested barley acres are estimated to be 3.08 million acres, down from 3.24 million acres in 2012, while Canada's 7.2 million barley acres are down 3 percent from the previous year.
Harvested barley acres in Washington are expected to be 170,000, down slightly from 175,000 acres in 2012, and they're anticipated to be 49,000 (53,000) in Oregon and 40,000 (80,000) in California.