Barley production slips in North DakotaSHEYENNE — Barley always has been part of Mark Seastrand’s life. The crop was grown on his family farm when he was a boy, and the Sheyenne farmer continues to raise it.
By: By Jonathan Knutson , The Dickinson Press
SHEYENNE — Barley always has been part of Mark Seastrand’s life.
The crop was grown on his family farm when he was a boy, and the Sheyenne farmer continues to raise it. But though Seastrand still likes barley, he’s not growing as much of the crop as he once did.
“Barley has to have the price to grow it. Without the price, we’ll find something else to grow,” he says.
Many North Dakota farmers, also attracted by better prices for competing crops, feel the same way. Barley acres in the state have been trending lower for years, and this spring. North Dakota farmers planted an estimated 450,000 to 475,000 acres, a record low.
Wet fields this year kept many farmers from planting barley and other crops, but barley acres in the state likely would have set a record low even with normal planting conditions, officials say.
North Dakota long has been the nation’s leader in barley production. Last year, however, the state barely edged out Idaho for the top spot.
This year, North Dakota is expected to fall to third.
The state is projected to produce 24.8 million bushels of the crop, down sharply from 43.5 million bushels a year ago. This year’s production will fall far short of the 44.1 million bushels grown in Idaho and the 37.4 million bushels produced in Montana, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Why the decline in North Dakota acres and production? Two main factors:
- Many farmers in the state, particularly in the Red River Valley of eastern North Dakota, can grow other crops, most notably corn and soybeans, more profitably than barley.
- There are challenges in growing malt barley, which pays higher prices than feed barley.
Barley fares best in cool, dry conditions. North Dakota has been in what’s often referred to as a wet cycle since 1993, making malt barley more difficult to grow.
Seastrand continues to grow barley on land with relatively high salt levels that’s not well suited to other crops.
Malt barley is used primarily in beer while feed barley mainly is fed to animals. Several factors, including protein levels, determine whether barley is sold as malt or feed.
Feed barley usually, although not always, fetches considerably less than malt barley.
Knutson is a reporter for Agweek, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.