Will There Be Enough Barley?

2008-2009 Crop Year

2009-2010 Crop Year

% Change

When crop-related numbers and facts are published from various private and government agencies, they raise questions and discussions about the accuracy of those results. I thought I’d add more numbers to the mix.

I looked at the files for 233 grain producers from our client base where we have confirmed information on both what was grown last year and also this year’s seeding intentions. At the time of writing, many producers were still seeding and undecided as to last minute changes, but the results at this point (the column was written May 23) are what I anticipated from talking with grain producers in general.

From this small, but representative sample, the number that jumps out is the 12 per cent drop in producers growing barley. Of the 233 farmers, 175 grew barley last year and only 147 plan to grow it this year. Why have some regular barley growers decided not to grow it this year? The most reliable way to find out is to simply ask the grower.

“It doesn’t look like there’s going to be a market for it,” says Glenys Von Platen, who farms with her husband George in the Wetaskiwin, Alta., area. “Prices don’t look as attractive as previous years and when you sit down and do the inputs, it just doesn’t make sense.”

Len Desharnais from Falher in the Peace region agrees. “I can seed other crops that have earlier emergence and better profitability with the same inputs as barley. The final decision was at the end of April when the barley markets still weren’t strong and the seed was expensive. I purchased certified flax seed at a cheaper price. If anything, I would have preferred oats over barley.”

Speaking of oats, as a side note, the milling oat prices are finally increasing for new crop. It’s been months and months where prices at the bin, if you were inclined to forward price, were well below $2 per bushel. Today, most areas in Alberta can lock-in $2 to $2.20 off the combine and $2.25 to $2.40 for delivery in March 2010. If you live next door to a mill, those prices range from $2.40 to $2.60 delivered.

One producer who did have a change of heart at that last minute was Darren Klein, who farms near Viking, Alta., with his wife, Lindsay. “I changed my mind about barley at noon today (May 22) after I listened to a market report on the radio,” he says. “Corn plantings aren’t going so well and the carryout is lower than expected. So I figured the barley prices might get pulled upwards and barley still fits in my rotation.”

Some loyal barley growers consistently try for malt every year, which gives them the option to sell into the feed market if it doesn’t get selected or if the feed price happens to be more than the malt market. That does happen.

“Feed barley for me is like a throwaway crop. When I’m undecided on what to seed, usually barley works,” says Darin Wobick from Barons, Alta. “When I had an ergot problem,

Barley

175

147

-12.02%

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