The Benefits of Growing Barley in a Maritime Climate

What is a Maritime (or Oceanic) Climate and what does it mean for the Skagit Valley?

“Skagit County maintains one of the largest and most diverse agricultural communities west of the Cascade mountain range. Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Skagit County. Local farmers produce about $300 million worth of crops, livestock, and dairy products on approximately 90,000 acres of land. Over 90 different crops are grown in the County.” (WSU)

The Skagit Valley is a vibrant agriculture center in the Pacific Northwest and much of this success and diversity comes from our Maritime climate. A maritime climate is a region that is heavily influenced by the surrounding ocean and results in small seasonal changes and high levels of moisture in the atmosphere. This result is a climate that is moderated by ocean water, meaning cool summers and mild winters.  A maritime climate is the opposite of a continental climate which has high variations in temperature season to season, cold winters and dry hot summers.

This map displays prominent Maritime climates around the world. If you zoom in you can see that the Skagit Valley is one of the few Maritime climates in the US and one of the only producing Malting Barley. The other pictures were taken right next to one of farmers barley fields.

Benefits for Barley and Malt

Mild summers mean little drought stress for barley, which results in plump kernels with lower protein and lower free amino nitrogen (FAN). Lower protein and FAN are important factors in craft beer because if levels are too high the result can be product flavor instability and if these levels are too low it can result in poor yeast nutrition and health (Brewers Associaton). Another benefit of growing barley in the Skagit Valley is that our farmers don't have to irrigate due to mild summer temperatures and a high water table that is supported by the surrounding mountains. Barley roots grow deep into the soil, up to six feet, which makes it an excellent rotation crop but also enables the plant to reach water deep in the ground.  

Skagit Valley Malting crafts a malt that is very similar to that of the major barley growing regions in Europe. Our maritime climate gives us a comparable growing region and our exploration of UK barley varieties gives us similar grains that are malted to traditional styles with rich and full flavors.    

“No Barley, No Beer” - The Future of Barley

There have been several articles recently detailing the effects climate change can have on brewers ability to brew beer, especially related to barley production. These changes could adversely affect farmers ability to grow barley in continental climates where summers are already hot and dry. There is also the issue of irrigating the crop and the stress this can put on local water resources. The result may be that barley production continues to move further north into Canada, a trend we are already seeing in barley production (Brewers Association). Growing regions are going to increasingly be important in the production of barley, especially regions that will not feel the immediate effects of climate change.

Another danger to future barley production is cropland competition, over the last 80 years, there has been a steady decline in barley production. Barley is primarily grown for malting and animal feed but as the necessary inputs for growing other viable feed crops, such as corn, decrease the result has been a substantial decrease in US barley production and a decrease in barley for maltsters to choose from.

The Skagit Valley, with the benefits of a maritime climate, is uniquely positioned to continue to support the sustainable production of barley and the supply of malt  to craft brewers and distillers. With over 10,000 acres of barley grown every year this crop is vital to sustaining the valley and we are committed to adding value to the grain already grown through exceptional malting.