Though slowed a bit by Mother Nature’s antics, the barley harvest is underway around the Powell Valley.
“What’s coming in so far, the quality is beautiful,” said Rick Redd, regional manager for Briess Malt & Ingredients.
The first truckload of barley arrived at the Briess elevator in Ralston on July 23, a little later than normal, Redd said. There wasn’t much activity in late July and the first few days of August.
“The main push of the harvest will probably be a week later than normal,” Redd said.
That’s mostly due to the cool, wet spring that delayed planting about a week to 10 days in the Powell area.
Just as the weather slowed springtime operations, several rainstorms hampered harvest efforts in recent days.
“We need Mother Nature to straighten up and let us get ‘er done,” Redd said.
The cool, wet spring also led to a little more lodging — when the plant falls over a bit.
“Barley plants got really tall, and it’s a heavy, high-yielding crop, so a lot of it’s lodging more than normal … That’s a little bit frustrating,” Redd said.
But it hasn’t affected the quality of the crop.
“The quality has been fabulous, and yields have been very good,” he said.
Briess also contracts with farmers in southern Montana, who were really late seeding this spring due to the weather, Redd said.
Typically, barley harvested from southern Montana arrives in Ralston earlier, but this year the Montana barley will likely come in around the same time as the Powell fields.
“We’ll have a few more trucks in line,” Redd said.
Mother Nature dealt a particularly tough blow to farmers in the Lovell and Cowley area, as a July hailstorm caused significant damage to their fields.
“We lost some barley due to that,” Redd said.
While the weather hasn’t cooperated this year, the region’s typical conditions are ideal for growing barley.
The consistency of quality and production, year in and year out, makes the area unique.
“This is one of the highest quality barley regions in North America,” Redd said. “This barley out here is phenomenal for consistent quality and volumes.”
Eventually, the golden barley harvested from local fields will end up in cold beer glasses around the nation. From Ralston, the barley is sent to Briess malthouses in Wisconsin, where the company is based.
Briess had fewer contracts with local growers this year.
“We did have a little more inventory than we like to have, due to craft beer sales being down,” Redd said. “For next year, we look for our contract numbers to go back up.”
After the harvest wraps up this fall, Briess will host a celebration with local growers to show appreciation for how hard they work.
“We know it’s not easy — it’s a lot of hard work,” Redd said. “We appreciate what they do and how hard they work to do it right and give us high-quality barley.”
The growers take a lot of pride in the barley they harvest and deliver, he said.
“They want to deliver a high-quality product,” Redd said, adding that’s what makes it fun to work with growers in the region.
“It’s very gratifying to see them be able to deliver their crops, the fruits of their hard labors, at the end of the season,” he said.