By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
WOOSTER, Ohio — Could growing malting barley be a good fit for Ohio farmers? Origin Malt wants to bring the crop back to the Midwest, and some from The Ohio State University think it has real possibilities.
Many craft brewers want local ingredients for their product. Malting barley also has potential as a cash cover crop to help manage water quality. Since 2008, Eric Stockinger, OSU associate professor of horticulture and crop science, has been developing new barley varieties to improve the malting quality and winter hardiness of the crop.
“Winter barley matures earlier; it allows the farmer to double-crop soybeans,” said Stockinger, who is a homebrewer himself. “In my part of the country, they can go in the ground with barley in the autumn, pull it off mid-June, and then go right in with a spring soybean planting.”
The craft brewing business has brought about changes in the brewing industry, he said; brewers want local barley. Ohio farmers grow a great deal of soft red winter wheat, and the prices per bushel are declining.
“For a bushel of high-quality malting barley, producers can get $6 to $7 right now, which is significant,” Stockinger said. “Whether that value will hold as supply increases, we don’t know.”
There is a tremendous demand for winter barley across North America, he added, so much that it is a priority goal of the American Malting Grower Assoc. There is a nationwide emphasis as researchers are working to develop winter barley for many purposes.
“My main focus is on winter malting barley; most of the barley grown for malting is spring barley,” Stockinger said. “The variety Puffin is one that I brought into production and then Origin Malt took over growing it on a larger scale.”
Origin Malt has been in business for six years and had its first malt production last year, said Whitney Thompson, procurement manager. When Stockinger began his research, he sought out and planted a number of barley varieties, including Puffin.
“When the polar vortex came through in 2014, Puffin had an 80 percent survival rate. The other varieties had a 5 percent survival rate,” Thompson reported. “Winter hardiness is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to growing winter barley in Ohio; that was a ‘eureka’ moment, in that Puffin was suitable for the Ohio climate and the region around us.”
Origin Malt co-founders Victor Thorne and Ryan Lang teamed up to work with Stockinger and eventually acquired an exclusive license with Puffin, she said. Limagrain Cereal Seeds developed Puffin’s original germplasm.
Lang is a distiller, Thompson explained. He could get corn, rye, and wheat locally, but not barley. He brought in Thorne, who specializes in supply-chain logistics.
They decided it was doable and necessary to grow local barley and build a high-quality malting facility in the region. They are targeting working with local brewers – “local” being a 500-mile area around Marysville, Ohio, where they bought land for a malthouse.
“Before Prohibition, over 350,000 acres grown of malting quality barley and several malthouses were situated in Ohio,” Thompson said. “Once Prohibition hit, farmers needed another economic option. That was when more corn, soybeans, and wheat came into play.”
Origin Malt wants to bring the number of barley acres up again. Within the next five years, it wants to plant at least 75,000 acres of malt barley and have its state-of-the-art malthouse in operation. Besides Ohio, the company is growing in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, with expansion into Illinois and Kentucky in the works.
It contracts individually with growers for a specific number of acres, Thompson said. Origin Malt helps farmers every step of the way, holding frequent meetings and even having a growers’ resource kit.
“We want them to have a successful end product that craft brewers desire,” Thompson said.
Eric Richer, an OSU extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Fulton and other counties in northwestern Ohio, is also looking for a successful end product. He’s working with seven growers on 12 fields this year to learn as much as they can about growing winter barley in that region of Ohio.
With two production seasons under his belt, Richer said he will have more answers in a couple years.
“Barley will harvest seven to 10 days earlier than winter wheat,” he said. “In northwest Ohio, for us to be successful double-cropping soybeans, we can really use that seven to 10 days.
“I’m interested in the overwintering cereal grains like malt barley. I think they can help us in the rotation to better manage water quality issues on a grand scale. I like malt barley first and foremost because it is a second alternative to cash crop winter wheat.”
Look for Origin Malt, which is planning to be at next week’s Ohio Farm Science Review in London. For information on the company, visit www.originmalt.com