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Organics add diversification

Published on June 30, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on July 28, 2011 7:18AM

Dave Wilkins/Capital Press
Gary Beck, manager of the Stevenson Ranch near Bellevue, Idaho, discusses conservation practices June 23 during a tour of the barley and hay farm.

Dave Wilkins/Capital Press Gary Beck, manager of the Stevenson Ranch near Bellevue, Idaho, discusses conservation practices June 23 during a tour of the barley and hay farm.

Dave Wilkins/Capital Press
An organic malt barley field is shown June 27 at Ernie’s Organics farm near Shoshone, Idaho. The crop is under contract to Anheuser Busch.

Dave Wilkins/Capital Press An organic malt barley field is shown June 27 at Ernie’s Organics farm near Shoshone, Idaho. The crop is under contract to Anheuser Busch.

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Demand for organic feed barley, malt barley on the rise


By DAVE WILKINS


Capital Press


Steady demand for organic wheat and barley is providing valuable diversification for some Southern Idaho farms.


At Ernie's Organics near Shoshone, Idaho, farm manager Fred Brossy grows soft white winter wheat for the organic flour market and spring malt barley for Anheuser-Busch.


The winter wheat is sold to a grain miller in Eugene, Ore., that has an organic division.


The crop fits in well with his rotation, he said. Improved disease-resistant varieties such as Bitterroot, recently released from the University of Idaho, have helped, Brossy said.


While hay has always provided the foundation for Brossy's organic rotation, small grains also contribute significantly to sustainability, he said.


"The grain is the opportunity to put a whole bunch of organic matter back into the soil between row crops," he said.


Brossy likes to follow beans with small grains, but he can't put all of his bean ground into winter wheat every year. His organic malt barley contract gives him a spring grain crop.


Small grains now make up about one-third of his total acreage.


"They don't always contribute a lot to net income, but you can't do without them," Brossy said of his small grains.


The Stevenson Ranch near Bellevue, Idaho, began growing organic malt barley about six years ago.


Learning to do without commercial herbicides and pesticides has been difficult, farm manager Gary Beck said during a recent tour of the farm organized by the Western Region Functional Agro-Biodiversity Work Group.


Damage from voles was so extensive last year that about 200 acres of organic malt barley went unharvested.


"Organic can be good and it can be really tough, depending on the year," Beck said.


Despite the challenges, the Stevenson Ranch isn't giving up on organic malt barley. About 500 acres of the farm's 2,200 acres of malt barley are being grown organically for Anheuser-Busch this year.


Organic feed barley is also in good demand in Southern Idaho, said Lou Andersen, owner of S&L Commodities in Fairfield. A growing number of Idaho dairies have switched to organic production in recent years.


"There has never been quite enough organic feed barley grown in this part of the world to satisfy demand," Andersen said. Some Southern Idaho dairies have been forced to import organic feed barley from Canada or the Midwest, he said.


"We have more people who want it than we have supply," Andersen said.


Prices for organic feed barley are likely to be up considerably this year, perhaps as much as $100 per ton above 2010, he said.



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