Why Farmers Grow Barley in the Skagit Valley
Barley is primarily grown for two reasons; the first, as a feed crop and the second, for malting. However, in the Skagit Valley, there is a third and arguably more important reason, as a rotation crop. Barley plays a major role in the sustainable farming practices of the Skagit Valley, barley helps make it possible to grow 90 different crops on 90,000 acres while maintaining and preserving the land.
Every year Skagit farmers grow roughly 10,000 acres of grain in the valley. Barley is a crucial part of sustainable farming because it breaks disease cycles between crops, especially high-value crops like potatoes and tulips, while also adding nutrients back into the soil. Another benefit from growing barley as a rotation crop is that it reduces the demand on fertilizers and herbicides to replenish the soil for future farming. Even during the winter barley plays an important role in reducing erosion by stabilizing soil during the rainy months.
How Skagit Valley Malting is Making a Difference
Barley clearly plays an important role in farming the Skagit Valley but it can come at a cost to farmers. Before our Malthouse was built, the only primary market for Skagit barley was feed. Feed prices fluctuate year to year and even state to state. This meant that some years a farmer’s cost of production was higher than what they could make on the commodity feed market. Malting adds value to barley, and the majority of US barley today goes towards malting, but the Skagit Valley isn't known as a malted barley producing region meaning there was no market for the grain grown. Skagit Valley Malting is currently building a market for Skagit barley through exceptional malting that not only gives farmers an avenue to sell their barley but also adds value to the grain. SVM doesn't buy barley at commodity prices, we contract directly with farmers and buy grain at a per ton price that is two to three times more than what the commodity market offers. We have found that contracting directly with the farmers creates higher quality barley and makes for a flexible system that lets us test new varieties of barley and explore new farming practices related to terroir. This value-add is only possible through craft malting and through craft beer/ distilling because they are premium products that demand higher quality ingredients.