Organics add diversification
Demand for organic feed barley, malt barley on the rise
By DAVE WILKINS
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.