Climate change hits malt barley, which means your beer

Summer storms and unpredictable “flash droughts” have proven a challenge to farmers who grow malt barley in Montana, which ranks as the No. 2 state for producing this key ingredient in beer. As the climate has gradually warmed, a once-hospitable environment for the grain has become far more tenuous, says Ari LeVaux in FERN’s latest story, with The Weather Channel.

“While the costs of growing the crop are relatively low, the odds of a crop failure are substantial,” the story says. “In fact, barley growing is so risky that in many states, federal crop insurance, which protects against a crop failure or a price collapse, isn’t even available. Now, climate change is making this farming venture riskier than ever in Montana’s barley country.”

The state grew 770,000 acres of malt barley in 2017, all of it destined for the beer market. That’s down from nearly a million acres in 2016, when the crop was worth $240 million.

Farmers had an exceedingly tough 2017, because of a spike in temperatures and lack of rain, which fueled wildfires in the state. Barley acreage is trending down, both statewide and nationally. “The decline of barley acreage across the United States has been a bit of a wake-up call for maltsters and brewers,” said Collin Watters, executive vice president of the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee. “Without a consistent, reliable supply of barley in a changing climate, costs could skyrocket.”

Climate scientists predict statewide temperature to rise 4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2055. Summers should get drier, and winters wetter, spurring new pest infestations and invasive species. Climate change will also bring extreme weather events at unpredictable times, the scientists say. The Montana Farmers Union commissioned a study that predicted the cost of climate change to be $736 million per year, taking a 1.7 percent slice out of the state’s $44 billion economy. Among the dire predictions — “a 20 percent drop in rangeland cattle production and a 25 percent decline in grain production by 2055.”

You can also read the full story here at FERN.