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Idaho Barley Economic Study


“Last summer we had a couple of economists approach the commission.  They were working on a study on the value of beer to Idaho, and they thought they should include barley since barley is the major ingredient for malt for beer, and we agreed that we would like to know more about barleys economic contributions to the state of Idaho,” said Laura Wilder, Executive Director of the Idaho Barley Commission.

The study by Timothy Nadreau and Steven Peterson, economists with ties to University of Idaho and Washington State Universitywas funded by the Idaho Barley Commission. It shows the state’s barley industry contributes $274 million annually to Idaho’s total gross state product, based on the averages from the past 10 years.

The study also shows the state’s barley industry supports 2,698 jobs in Idaho and is responsible for an average of $551 million in total sales each year in Idaho. Last year those numbers we down due to the drought, but Idaho was still the nation’s top barley producer.

“It’s helpful to have the economic study so that we can fully understand the economic impacts of the industry to the state and communicate that to decision makers that might be making decisions agricultural policy, such as state legislators. It’s very helpful for them to have the information and understand barley’s contribution to the state. But also for us to look at, to see if there are any other opportunities for market development, for expanding markets, for growing capacity for improving the industry for the state,” said Wilder.

“In 2021 we grew 37% of the nation’s barley. It’s been hovering around a third the last few years. In 8 of the last 10 years Idaho’s was the top barley state. Montana has been second and North Dakota third but together our three states make up about three quarters of the nation’s barley crop because of the northern tier location is ideal for growing barley. Idaho, with the high desert climate, controlled irrigation water, makes a perfect environment for growing high quality barley that’s highly sought after by the malting industry as well as feed and food barley channels.

With our irrigation water that we have here we’re able to have a more consistent, reliable supply than some of the areas that are mostly dryland. So, we have seen more business come this way and there’s certainly more capacity to grow more barley here to help serve these markets.”

That of course, includes the market for beer.  Idaho farmers typically produce enough malt from barley each year to produce 12 million barrels of beer or 4.1 billion 12-ounce bottles of beer.

“Well, we are the number one barley state, the number two hops state, so we like to say that beer grows here.

About 80% or even a little more is grown for malt barley, and much of that is in eastern Idaho, but also in the Camas prairie and some in northern Idaho. But we also have barley grown for livestock feed and for human food. And with the new barley protein concentrate facility that Scoular has just opened in Jerome, some will be going into that channel as well, and that’s for their product called emerge which will be for aquaculture and pet food.

Barley has many health attributes. It’s high in fiber, low glycemic index, good for gut health. It’s a great food ingredient but lots of people are stuck in the notion that it’s just for barley soup, but I’m here to tell you it’s not your grandma’s barley anymore, and you can put it in salads, you can put it in casseroles. It’s a great addition to add protein and fiber and other nutrients to other dishes.

So, barley has a great story to tell, it just hasn’t been as commonly used. So, we are working on market development both domestically and for some export markets.

We have lots of agricultural commodity’s dollars into Idaho. We want to point out barleys contributions as well. It’s very significant and very important to the state.”

For the Voice of Idaho Agriculture, I’m Paul Boehlke.