CHIPPEWA FALLS — With the number of craft breweries in Wisconsin nearly doubling since 2011, opportunities exist for farmers to help meet the growing demand for brewing malt made from locally grown barley.
According to the Brewers Association, a national craft brewing advocacy group, the number of craft brewers in Wisconsin has grown from 73 in 2011 to 138 in 2016. Many of Wisconsin’s craft brewers are looking to use local ingredients, and Chippewa County UW-Extension Agriculture Agent Jerry Clark has been running testing on barley plots in the county to focus on the success of specific barley varieties, fungicide treatments and nitrogen application rates.
Through the trials, Clark is trying to hit quality marks and testing the ability of fungicides to control headscab in the barley, which can lead to it being rejected by the brewing industry.
“When you’re looking at the malting industry, there’s a quality parameter that you have to hit,” Clark said at an Aug. 1 malting barley field meeting. “We’ve done this for three years now, so hopefully now we can start to put data behind it and say, ‘Here’s what we’re finding for trying to grow quality malting barley here in Wisconsin.’ ”
Clark said Valkyrie Brewing Co. in Dallas, New Glarus Brewing Co. in New Glarus and South Shore Brewery in Ashland all make beers using the barley varieties being tested on the Chippewa County plots.
Buffalo County UW-Extension Agriculture Agent Carl Duley has been running barley testing in Buffalo County for several years thanks, in part, to an active craft brewing group in the county, and he provides the seeds for the Chippewa County plots. Chippewa County started their barley trials to test barley’s success in sandier soils than are found in Buffalo County.
Duley said Buffalo County now has seven or eight farmers producing barley commercially. He said other potential markets could open up as smaller malt plants open and don’t have the large batch-size requirements of the larger malting companies.
“New York State has about 20 small malt plants now, because their governor five years ago enacted a bill that said if you’re going to sell beer that says ‘Made in New York’ it has to have 20 percent New York hops in it, 20 percent New York barley in it, and it has to have been grown there and malted there,” Duley said. “After that, their hop and barley industry exploded.”
The crop is not without its risks though, as brewers are looking for barley with a protein content below 11 percent.
“When we think of barley in terms of livestock feed, we wanted high protein. It’s kind of the opposite in the brewing industry,” Clark said. “With high protein, you actually get docked for it because it has an effect on the fermentation process. If we over-fertilize with nitrogen, we tend to see higher protein content.”
Duley is also working on a multistate trial of a winter variety of barley, but that is in its early stages and still has some obstacles to overcome, including a higher protein content in the winter varieties.
“We don’t have any brewers that are too excited about the winter ones,” Duley said. “Mostly the protein just leads to haziness, which isn’t a problem. We really just need them to take a chance on some of these things, because the winter barley conservation-wise is so much better.”