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How Idaho barley is raising the price of Utah beer

Posted at 6:17 AM, Jun 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-06 08:17:14-04

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Cory Arave says his malted barley is good enough to eat out of a bowl.

He raises the grain on his family farm outside Idaho Falls, Idaho. These days, his crop is in demand.

“I mean, you’re breaking records with barley prices right now,” Arave said.

Certain beer records are falling, too.

“We’ve seen prices increase on the shelf between that 25 to 50 cent range, primarily, on a six pack,” said Jeremy Ragonese, the president of Salt Lake City’s Uinta Brewing Co.

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The Idaho Barley Commission is predicting the price of barley will be at least 40% higher this year than it was last year. That’s helping boost the price of beer across the country.

Idaho is the top barley-growing state – responsible for about one-third of U.S. production. Only a special strain, called malt barley, is used in commercial beer.

Ragonese says Uinta gets most of its barley from the Intermountain West, especially Idaho.

“Since the fourth quarter of last year,” he said, “we’ve seen increases of about anywhere from 25% on just our two-row, our standard based malts, and it can be even higher on some of our specialty malts.”

Barley costs began to rise after production in Idaho declined by about 20% in 2021, according to the state commission.

“Drought. Period,” Arave explained.

The USDA says wildfires were to blame, too. Smokey skies meant less sunlight for crops.

Another factor in increased barley prices: Ukraine was a big grain-growing country, and the war there has stopped its exports. That’s increased the price of all grains.

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Some farmers may find it more profitable to plant corn or wheat rather than barley, said Michael McCullough, an agribusiness professor at California Polytechnic State University who studies the economics of beer.

“I think we're really we're starting to see, especially craft producers, small producers, increased prices. And this is something that really hasn't happened. And in a decade.”

Uinta’s beers can be found from Pennsylvania to California. Ragonese says breweries like his are in a better position than much smaller craft brewers.

“They don’t have the long-term contracts that maybe a Uinta or a larger supplier has,” Ragonese explained.

Arave says it’s time people start thinking about where their food – and beer – come from.

“’Farm to glass,’ is kind of what we like to say,” Arave said.