Friday, August 22, 2014

Commission calls rainfall 'catastrophic' for malt barley crop

The effect of heavy August rain on eastern Idaho's malt barley crop has been catastrophic, said Kelly Olson, administrator of the Idaho Barley Commission, who was in eastern Idaho Tuesday through Thursday touring the area. "We're looking at millions of dollars, perhaps high millions, of lost economic value," she said.

The worst case scenario would be for 60 percent of the malt barley crop to be downgraded to feed, due to early sprouting in the mature but unharvested malting barley crop. In the malting process, sprouting is highly controlled in plants like the Anheuser-Busch and Intergrow facilities south of Idaho Falls.

A downgrade from malt to feed would cause the crop to lose roughly half its value. "We're losing more and more of the quality than we thought we had," she said.

The malting companies, which have contracted for certain quantities of malt barley, will have to go somewhere else now, paying higher prices and freight costs as well. The commission is hoping that at least some of the crop can be salvaged and has issued guidelines for steps growers can take. Commission Chairman Pat Purdy encourages barley producers who need assistance or information to contact the IBC office in Boise at 208-334-2090 or in Idaho Falls at 208-569-6957.

The southwestern monsoonal weather pattern is nothing unusual for August, Olson said. What is unusual is it coming this far north. In a typical year, the moisture from the Pacific hits Colorado and is deflected eastward.

"No one has a good explanation for it," she said. "It's just another example of the more extreme weather patterns everybody seems to be experiencing."

Earlier this week Jerome County commissioners sought emergency status after nine days of rain caused hay and wheat to mold and barley fields to sprout, according to a story Wednesday in the Idaho Statesman. Between 50 and 70 percent of the wheat, barley and alfalfa crops in Jerome County may have been lost, according to estimates from the county's Office of Emergency Management. Commissioners in neighboring Twin Falls County said they would seek an emergency declaration as well.

Here is a link to today's National Weather Service forecast: Idaho Falls weather.