Time, price might be right for more barley acres

Time, price might be right for more barley acres

Is this the year when barley gets its big bounce back?

Farmers and the weather will answer that question in the next six weeks.

“If we get into June (and there is still much seeding to do), you’ll see more barley and oats, and we expect that,” said Derek Squair, an adviser with Agri-Trend Marketing.

“It’s a good year to do it.”

Barley has slipped from farmers’ hearts in recent years as other crop options offer better relative returns and fewer marketing problems. Prairie farmers have long complained about growing and carefully managing malting barley, only to see it rejected and relegated to the feed market.

Feedgrain prices are usually well beneath food crop prices, and barley has not generally been a farmer’s 
No. 1 choice.

Barley breeding has not pushed yields forward in recent years, which has further reduced its appeal.

As well, the end of the CWB monopoly has increased some farmers’ interest in wheat. In the eastern Prairies there is growing attention on high-yielding corn. High feedgrain prices caused by last summer’s U.S. Midwest drought raised all feedgrain values, but corn more than barley.

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Doug Hilderman of NorAg Re-sources hopes this summer gives farmers both a good agronomic reason to seed barley again and good returns for doing so.

Having barley in the bin in August and September could serve farmers well, considering that feed prices are high and malting barley buyers are attempting to keep growers interested. As well, growing barley avoids some of the risks of seeding a crop late.

“They’re cheap to plant, cheap to grow, low risk and there’s going to be a pretty vibrant malt-feed market,” said Hilderman, who sources grain for users. “The flooding hasn’t even happened yet in some areas.”

Charlie Pearson of Alberta Agriculture also thinks there will be a good harvest market for barley.

“There could be a demand point right off the combine,” said Pearson, noting the window between the Canadian barley harvest and the U.S. corn harvest.

Farmers will probably be able to sell into the U.S. market in August and September because it is still short of feedgrains.

However, Pearson doesn’t expect a major increase in barley acres. Farmers told Statistics Canada in late March that they intended to cut acreage by about two percent from last year. That’s probably changed, with acreage up a little, but not by a lot.

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“I don’t necessarily see a monster increase in barley acres unless conditions really go to hell and unless we’re really, really delayed (with seeding),” said Pearson.

“I expect it to be even (acreage) to maybe up a shade.”

Hilderman thinks barley is due for a rebound in popularity with farmers, but only some of the recovery will be for positive reasons.

Farmers in warm areas such as southeastern Manitoba have aggressively embraced corn because of high profits in recent years. However, Hilderman thinks corn is still risky, even if recent years haven’t delivered early, killing frosts.

“This (weather of the past few years) hasn’t been normal. People think warm springs and open falls are normal,” said Hilderman.

A significant frost before harvest, which often occurs on the Prairies, “will temper the enthusiasm a little bit. We all know that at some point there’s going to be a corn crop that’s worth a lot less than farmers are used to.”

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