By Tom Collins
CARP — The need for high-quality barley is growing, but stagnant yields and declining acres are making it tough for millers to match consumers’ demand.
“It’s a super-nutritious food, and it’s been growing in popularity over the last few years among the health-conscious consumer,” said miller Kevin Stewart, of Ottawa Valley Grain Products at Carp, west of urban Ottawa.
Ottawa Valley Grain Products purchases barley from Eastern Ontario farmers or elevators, refines the crop and sells it to end-users, such as restaurants and hospitals, as well as to packaging companies in Montreal and Toronto who repackage the barley under various labels to sell in grocery stores.
Stewart said the demand is for high-quality barley such as a miller’s grade, Grade 1 or possibly Grade 2 if it meets most of the parameters. The barley needs to have a good bushel weight of at least 48 lb. per bushel, low moisture of at least 14 per cent low and have a bright blonde colour to it. The company is sponsoring a barley field crop trial this summer by Valley Bio Limited in Cobden in Renfrew County to see what the best variety for Eastern Ontario would be.
Ottawa Valley Grain Products had trouble finding barley last year, having to fill 20 per cent of its production from outside Eastern Ontario. Stewart is unsure if there will be enough top-quality barley in Eastern Ontario to meet his forecasted number of 5,000 tonnes this year.
“Barley is an early crop and is typically put in early and harvested early,” he said. “Because of the weather we’ve had, a lot of the barley went in late and so it’s going to come out late.”
Statistics Canada reports only 85,000 acres of barley were planted in Ontario this year, down from 100,000 last year and 115,000 two years ago. This is a far cry from even a decade ago when the number of acres planted regularly topped 265,000. The number of acres ranged from 420,000 to 603,000 from 1981 to 1992.
Stewart said barley is a forgotten crop because there isn’t a stable market for it since it’s not traded like corn or soybeans and is sold directly to mills.
Contracts this year have ranged from $175 to $225 per metric tonne. It’s an inexpensive crop to grow, said Stewart, and often used as a crop rotation.
Meanwhile, barley yields have remained pretty stagnant over the last 30 years. Barley last year yielded 63.2 bu/ac. In 1987 it yielded 60.7 bu/ac.