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Chinese barley malt trade team visits Idaho

GRACE – A trade team representing China’s craft beer industry visited Idaho Oct. 9-12 to learn about the state’s malt barley industry.

China is the world’s largest beer consuming nation and the eight-member trade team was interested in learning about the U.S. and Idaho barley industry, said Bryan Lohmar, director of the U.S. Grain Council’s China office in Beijing.

The grains council sponsored the trade team’s nine-day U.S. visit, which included stops in North Dakota and Colorado. The trade team included craft brewers and ingredient importers from across China.

The purpose of the visit was to link U.S. malt suppliers with key stakeholders in China’s craft brewing industry and the ultimate goal is to increase sales of U.S. malted barley to craft brewers in the world’s most populous nation.

Lohmar said the craft brewing industry in China is still small but starting to take off and the visit could potentially result in significant market opportunities for U.S. farmers in the future.

The rapid growth of craft brewing in China is increasing demand for malted barley.

“The craft brewing industry in China … is really starting to accelerate,” Lohmar said while the trade team visited a barley farm in Grace. “This visit is a great opportunity for customers in China to learn more about U.S. barley and how they can procure the quality characteristics they are looking for.”

He said the potential for U.S. growers to benefit off the growth of China’s craft brewing industry is enormous.

“China is the biggest beer-consuming country in the world and growing,” Lohmar said. “As incomes there grow, you’re growing to see more beer consumption and more craft beer consumption. I think there is a really big potential in the future as China’s craft brewing industry grows and develops.”

The visit to Idaho was organized by the Idaho Barley Commission, which provides some funding to the USGC. The commission is funded by Idaho’s barley farmers.

“This visit is an exciting opportunity for Idaho barley growers,” said IBC Administrator Laura Wilder. “It’s another example of how grower dollars add value back to the industry through development of markets such as this potential market in China.”

Because of the ongoing trade war between the United States and China, any U.S. barley exported to China currently faces a 25 percent tariff.

“We are very interested in buying U.S. malt but right now the tariff situation is” making it not economically feasible, said Wang Zhi, brewery director for Bravo Brewing Co. in China.

He also said quality is the most important thing that Chinese brewers are interested in. 

Idaho, which ranks No. 1 in the nation in barley production, is known for its consistently high-quality crop because of southern Idaho’s cold, dry climate and plentiful water supply, which allows farmers to control irrigation.

“One of the problems (the Chinese brewers) have seen with other sources is the lack of consistency in quality, and Idaho has the most consistent, reliable barley crop around,” Wilder said.

During their visit to Idaho, trade team members visited with barley growers, malting companies and USDA and University of Idaho barley researchers.

“We want to highlight the overall strength of the industry, from the farmer to the malting side, and how we all work together to have an industry that will be sustained long into the future,” Wilder said.

She said initial feedback from the trade delegation was positive.

“They’ve been very excited about what they’ve seen,” Wilder said. “I think the trade team members have come to realize the quality of Idaho barley, from the farm through every step of the industry, and our commitment, statewide, to sustain the level of production and quality well into the future.”

She said the trade team’s visit to Idaho presents an exciting potential payoff in the future for the state’s barley industry.

Wilder said that while the trade standoff between the two nations is currently a hurdle, “we want to be ready to help our growers get in on the opportunity in the beginning when those opportunities do become available.”

During a visit to Stoddard Farms in Grace, co-owner Jason Stoddard gave the Chinese trade team members a brief agronomic lesson in why Idaho growers are able to produce a consistent barley crop year after year.

Besides the favorable climate, farmers also have a very reliable water supply. In the case of Stoddard Farms, there is plentiful water from nearby Bear Lake.

“Over our history, it’s been a very reliable system for irrigation,” Stoddard said.

He also explained how rotating crops such as barley and potatoes benefits the soil and both crops.

“The grain and potatoes balance each other out,” he said. “What the grain takes out, the potatoes put back in … We use rotations to keep our soils healthy.”

During the tour of Stoddard Farms, a member of the trade team told Stoddard his company has 5,000 customers in China “and many of them want to use U.S. malt.”