Barley Preferences in Craft Brews Impacting Midwest Growers

Kristen Leigh Painter reported late last month at the Minneapolis Star Tribune Online that, “As beer drinkers exchange their American lagers for craft brews, demand for barley has shifted to a version of the crop not often grown in the Midwest.

It’s a change that recently led Cargill Inc. to decide to close a North Dakota factory that processes barley into malt. The Minnetonka-based agribusiness cited falling demand in the beer industry for six-row barley, the kind North Dakota and Minnesota farmers typically grow.

“Brewers, especially those of the craft-beer persuasion, increasingly favor two-row barley for their beverages. The names refer to the number of rows of kernels around the head of a barley stalk.”

Ms. Painter noted that, “Soil conditions and a more humid climate make it easier to grow six-row barley in North Dakota and Minnesota, and less risky for the growers. Two-row barley is better suited for Western U.S. states, like Idaho, Wyoming and Washington.

The factory near Jamestown, N.D., can malt both varieties, but there isn’t a robust local supply of two-row barley to keep it busy. As fewer customers asked for six-row malting barley, activity dropped at the plant, leading to last week’s closure decision.

“With the company’s focus on improving the efficiency of its plants and supply chain, a malting facility in North Dakota no longer made sense, Cargill said.”

The Star Tribune article added that, “Among brewers, the shift toward two-row began in earnest about five years ago, said Chris Swersey, a supply chain specialist for Colorado-based Brewers Association.”

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