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Idaho barley industry has large impact on Idaho economy

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

BOISE – A new study shows that Idaho’s barley industry has a sizable impact on Idaho’s overall economy.

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

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.

Barley’s contribution to the state’s GSP last year was “only” $216 million and the barley industry was “only” responsible for $434 million in total sales in 2021, but that was because the severe drought conditions in Idaho last year resulted in total barley production being down 21 percent compared with 2020.

“The 2021 contributions were still substantial and nothing to shake a stick at,” Nadreau, president of Recon Insight Group, told members of the Idaho Barley Commission Feb. 24 during the IBC’s regular meeting.

He pointed out that Idaho barley growers produce more than one commodity and “if you take production agriculture together as a whole, it is contributing a huge amount to Idaho’s overall economy.”

“This is really good, applicable information,” said IBC Commissioner Wes Hubbard, a barley producer from Bonners Ferry.

This is the first study that shows the impact barley has on Idaho’s economy, said IBC Executive Director Laura Wilder.

“For the first time, we have accurate information that shows the relevance of the industry to the state,” she said.

She said the information contained in the study will be very useful when speaking with state legislators and other elected officials.

“This is what legislators want to know; what the economic impact of the barley industry is in the state,” Wilder said. “Those are big numbers. It’s a big contribution to the state.”

The study points out that Idaho’s total barley acreage and production is normally very stable, especially compared with the other major barley producing states.

It shows that North Dakota dominated U.S. barley production until Idaho took over the No. 1 spot in 2011.

“Since then, it has been Idaho,” Nadreau said. “Idaho’s barley output is very stable. We have a very mild to upward trajectory (in total barley production).”

In 2003, North Dakota produced 43 percent of the nation’s barley, Idaho produced 17 percent and Montana produced 12 percent.

Over the past several years, total barley acreage in Idaho has remained about 500,000 while average yields per acre have risen steadily, reaching a record 110 bushels per acre in 2020.

In 2020, Idaho produced 32 percent of the nation’s total barley supply, Montana produced 29 percent and North Dakota produced 17 percent.

Despite last year’s severe drought conditions in Idaho, the state produced 37 percent of the nation’s barley supply, Montana produced 20 percent and North Dakota 19 percent.

About 80 percent of the barley produced in Idaho is malt barley that is used for beer brewing and the rest is used for human food or animal feed.

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.

Most of the malt barley produced in Idaho is purchased by major beer companies and maltsters, including Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors and Great Western Malting.