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Rising Prices, Shrinking Supplies: Malt Is in for a Rough Year

A historically poor barley harvest is piling on to supply-chain and cost issues that independent brewers have been facing with raw materials. Here’s what you need to know before placing your next order.

Ben Keene Dec 6, 2021 - 12 min read

Rising Prices, Shrinking Supplies: Malt Is in for a Rough Year Primary Image

Photo: Patrick Hayes, Oregon State University Barley Project

“We have a couple of months where the crop is either made or broken: June and July,” says Chris Riggers, co-owner of Clearwater Farms in North Idaho. “The crop looked nice coming up—we had good moisture underneath from snow melt. But the heat in June was pretty unprecedented. And we got no rain in July. The lack of precipitation just shattered records.”

Riggers grows about 1,000 acres of LCS Genie and AAC Connect malting barley in Nezperce. He sells the former to Montana Craft Malt in Butte and LINC Malt in Spokane Valley, Washington, while the latter goes to Great Western Malting. Like many farmers in America’s primary barley-growing regions, Riggers did not have a good year. In 2020, his fields averaged about 6,700 pounds of barley per acre (or about 7,500 kilos per hectare)—an all-time high. This year, that number was closer to 2,600. What’s more, protein levels were higher than usual, coming in at almost 14 percent.

“We still had pretty good plumps,” says Riggers. “That was a nice surprise. Some years you take a beating though.”

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Author of The Great Northeast Brewery Tour, a contributor to The Oxford Companion to Beer, and former editor of BeerAdvocate, Ben Keene has judged beer competitions across the US and has spoken at industry conferences and conventions. He lives in Seattle.