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Montana Ag Network: COVID-19 hits barley growers with unexpected challenges

Posted at 8:47 AM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-08 10:49:00-04

Barley growers -- like other sectors of agriculture -- have been dealt a major blow this spring because of the coronavirus.

“The closure of bars and restaurants and cancellation of sporting events and festivals and things where large crowds gather has really affected demand for malting barley products,” Montana Grain Growers Association’s Executive Vice President Lola Raska explained.

“Beer in particular. That's caused some of the companies to reach out to growers and it's backed up the supply chain and so there isn't the need for malt barley.”

She says COVID-19 is creating some real hardships for barley growers.

“Some of the companies have canceled contracts, some they've made that offer to their growers to say, you know, if you want to continue with your contract, we'll see what you can do or we'll let you out of the contract for 2020,” said Raska.

“In addition, Malt Europe here in Great Falls has shut down for the time being. So, they're not taking delivery of any more malting barley. Some growers still have 2019 barley in their bins and were told not to expect an opportunity to deliver that until possibly 2021 and even further out for the 2020 crop.”

The new Coronavirus Food Assistance Program does include a substantial payment of 71 cents per bushel for malting barley but only if growers didn’t have a contract.

“We've learned that if the grower had a contract on his barley as of January 15th, that's probably not eligible for CFAP payments," said Raska. “So, it's creating some real hard feelings out in malting barley country.”

She says in the meantime, the Montana Grain Growers Association is working hard to find a solution.

“We've been in contact with all of our congressional offices and with our state FSA and through our national barley organization with the FSA offices in Washington, DC,” said Raska. “We're writing letters and working through all of those folks to ask USDA to reconsider that determination.”

The latest USDA crop progress report shows 96% of Montana’s 2020 barley crop has been planted.