Idaho likely will be synonymous with potatoes for generations to come.
But brewing barley quickly is becoming the state’s second staple crop. Alan Slater, director of North American barley and seed operation for Anheuser-Busch InBev, said the company’s presence in eastern Idaho is no coincidence.
According to the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, Idaho produces more barley than any other state. The leading variety is Conrad, making up more than 20 percent of the barley planted in Idaho.
“The key to this region is the stable barley supply,” Slater said. “We’ve invested in these facilities for 100 years, so we’re going to have to continue to make sure we have the supply to feed this malt plant.”
Because of the amount of barley grown in Idaho, Anheuser-Busch InBev put on a special event to celebrate its eastern Idaho growers. The July 18 event included a tour of the Anheuser-Busch InBev malt plant in Idaho Falls, a tour of a mobile brewing facility and a visit with the famous Clydesdales.
The Clydesdales were on a nationwide tour, but the growers appreciation celebration only took place in Idaho Falls and Conrad, Mont. Slater said that’s because those are the most productive areas for Anheuser-Busch.
“Approximately three cans in a six-pack of Budweiser come from Idaho and Montana barley,” he said.
The malt plant processes the grain in 448 ton batches. The process includes the steeping, germination and kiln-drying of the barley. Annually, the plant produces 336,000 tons of malt, plant manager John Drake said.
Eastern Idaho and barley were made for each other, Slater said.
“That’s why we are here: it’s a desert climate,” he said. “The farmers can basically manage and control the environment with irrigation, so we get much better and higher quality barley here.”
A reliable water source is a must. Without irrigation, crops wouldn’t exist. With that in mind, Anheuser-Busch released its Smart Barley program to the farmers at the growers appreciation day.
SmartBarley is an application that can be accessed on a computer or smartphone. It allows growers to share their techniques and their yields with other farmers.
“We have about 25,000 growers around the world,” Slater said. “Our Idaho growers pretty much watch what their neighbor does, and if someones a real great grower, they probably look at his best practices. But now there’s new neighbors; he can look at what they’re doing in France, what they’re doing in China, in Brazil.”
One of those 25,000 growers is 40-year-old Dave DeMott, whose family has been growing barley for Anheuser-Busch in Idaho Falls for 30 years.
DeMott sells about 6.24 million pounds of barley to Anheuser-Busch per year.
“Raising barley has been pretty steady for us,” DeMott said. “It’s not as volatile as maybe some of these other markets. It’s good to know that you have a place to go with it, and Busch has been pretty good to deal with.”
The main goals behind SmartBarley is larger yields and more efficient practices. The application uses weather data from AgriMet, a satellite-based network of weather stations run by the Bureau of Reclamation, to help show when irrigation isn’t necessary. Companies that are environmentally friendly are becoming very important to the consumer, Slater said.
Reporter Aubrey Wieber can be reached at 542-6755.