Farmers in Montana and Idaho should have been harvesting their barley in the past two weeks. However, heavy rains have caused delays. In addition, the rains have been causing barley to sprout in the field. As little as 2% sprouted kernels will usually lead maltsters to reject a crop of barley, but in some parts of Montana, sprouting has exceeded 50%.
Much of the rejected malting barley crop could be sold as feed grain. But with prices already very low for feed, this is not much help for farmers with damaged crops.
In North Dakota — third in US barley production, after Montana and Idaho — rain is delaying the harvest, too. It is possible that US maltsters may try to buy barley from Canada, but Canada’s harvest is also being delayed by rain.
Some ag sources are calling the losses in some areas “catastrophic”. And, with the typical restraint seen in many on-line news sources, some are already prophesying a “beerpocalypse.” A note on the Probrewer forum, however, gives a slightly more sober assessment. Given that there are barley stocks left over from last year’s good crop, and at least some barley can likely be purchased from Canada (or perhaps elsewhere), the worst case scenarios are unlikely to unfold. A shortage of malt, for example, is unlikely. However, be prepared for malt and beer prices to go up.