By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
IDAHO FALLS – The Idaho Barley Commission has reduced its annual revenue projection about 6 percent for the coming fiscal year, compared with last year.
But the commission’s fiscal year 2020 budget is still heavy on research, as always.
According to IBC Administrator Laura Wilder, several major beer brewing companies that purchase malt barley from Idaho farmers have cut their contract volumes back in 2019 in an effort to whittle down the barley supplies they have in storage.
As a result, the barley commission has reduced its annual revenue projection 6 percent for the coming fiscal year.
Idaho barley farmers pay an assessment of 3 cents per hundred pounds of barley sold to fund the commission’s research, promotion, market development and grower education activities.
The IBC’s four commissioners – three barley growers and one barley industry representative – voted during their regular meeting June 21 to set the IBC’s fiscal 2019-2020 budget at $719,915.
Forty-two percent of the budget, or $301,000, will go toward various research projects. That represents a 9 percent increase in spending for research compared with last year.
IBC commissioners said research always has been and remains the main focus of the commission.
Many of the advancements in yields, new barley varieties and agronomic improvements have been a result of the money that barley growers have provided for research over the past several decades, said IBC commission and Rupert farmer Mike Wilkins.
“The biggest percentage of our budget always goes toward research,” he said. “It’s really important for our industry. If we don’t have the research, we don’t have a future in our industry.”
Wilkins, who has been farming for 40 years, said barley growers used to be happy with 100-120 bushels per acre but now that would be considered a poor yielding crop.
“That gain in yields is all through research and variety development, which were funded by grower dollars,” he said.
“Newer varieties and more productive varieties give us greater yields and that all comes from research,” said IBC commissioner and Soda Springs grower Scott Brown.
The big seed companies don’t do the research the industry needs because barley is a relatively small crop compared to other crops like wheat, corn and soybeans, he added.
“We can’t rely on the big companies to do barley research,” Brown said. “It takes public universities, the land grant universities, to do the research for us. We as an industry have to fund our own research because we’re such a small crop.”
The IBC approved funding for 13 projects with University of Idaho researchers and commissioners also approved funding for three projects being conducted by USDA Agricultural Research Service researchers.
The IBC projects its total income in fiscal year 2019-2020 to be $657,536, down from $697,449 during fiscal 2018-2019.
The commission board will review the budget during its October meeting and make any needed adjustments then.
Wilder said the overall U.S. beer industry is solid, with 42 percent of consumers who consume alcohol preferring beer, compared to 34 percent for wine and 28 percent for spirits, according to a 2018 Gallup Poll.
But while the preference for beer remains steady, preferences for craft and imported beer have grown while dollar sales of domestic premium brands, such as Budweiser, Miller and Coors, declined 4.2 percent last year.
Most of Idaho’s barley acres are contracted to companies that produce those premium brand beers.
“IBC commissioners will continue to watch changes and developments in the malting and brewing industry, which could impact commission funding and programs,” Wilder said. “While the beer industry is fairly flat overall, interest in food barley exports and domestic use is growing steadily and is providing new opportunities for growers in some areas already.”
Idaho ranks No. 1 in the nation in barley production with more than 34 percent of the U.S. crop. Idaho produced 53.5 million bushels of barley in 2018 and about 80 percent of that production was for malt barley for the beer industry. The rest was used for food barley or livestock feed.
During the commission’s June meeting, representatives from Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors, which together purchase a large percentage of the malt barley produced in Idaho, were asked how any future decline in domestic premium brand beer consumption would impact barley production in Idaho.
Both said they didn’t anticipate any significant reduction in their company’s purchasing of barley from Idaho growers because the state is a reliable, premium barley growing region.
“There is a reason Idaho is No. 1 in barley production,” said IBC commissioner Jason Boose, regional manager for MillerCoors. “It’s because Idaho is world class and it’s dependable year in and year out. Idaho is just a consistent barley producing region. In the long term, you won’t see any dramatic reduction.”
Anheuser Busch representative Tim Pella, whose term on the barley commission ended June 30, echoed those sentiments.
After hearing from the industry reps, “It makes things look positive for Idaho for a long time,” Wilder said.
The barley commission’s fiscal 2019-2020 budget also includes $129,000 for market development, $124,000 for industry partnerships and policy development, and $63,000 for grower education and information.