Spring planting is just around the corner for Briess barley growers in Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin and other barley growing regions. At Briess, our staff at the Ralston Elevator and Powell Seed Plant started preparing for spring planting many months ago.

Starting with pure seed
Following last year’s barley harvest, Briess carefully selected pure seed for this year’s crop. “All the seed planted for Briess barley production has been through a rigorous certification process for purity and quality,” Wyoming Plant Manager Rick Redd explains. All is IP (Identify Preserved) certified. That is a guarantee that the non-GMO identity of the barley has been preserved. IP certification programs require comprehensive record keeping, field inspection and lab testing of non-GMO varieties, administered by a third-party seed industry quality control agency.

Raw barley is distributed in the spring at the Powell Seed Plant. These augers play an important role preparing the raw barley for planting. When raw seed barley is received at the plant, it is cleaned. After cleaning, these augers load out the raw barley for transfer to the other end of the plant where it is treated and distributed. Brewers attending the first Bighorn Barley Tour last summer toured the plant and got a close-up look at the conveyance system and augers.

Preparing the seeds for planting
Rick says that planting season is a very busy time for his crew, as well as growers. “Getting the barley seeded at the right time is a critical factor for high yielding, high-quality crops. Our job is to make sure our growers have good quality seed ready when they need it. We usually start cleaning and treating seed in November/December through May 1.” It takes that much time to prepare the thousands of bushels of malting barley seed that Briess growers will need. “The seed is cleaned, treated and distributed at the Powell Seed Plant,” he continues. “When growers start picking up seed, on a busy day we may distribute 10,000 bushels in one day. So we need to have a lot of seed processed in advance for spring planting.”

Planting for new variety development
“It is also our job to ensure that we are getting the right barley types in the ground for production of high-quality malting barley that our customers need,” Rick continued. “That’s why we partner with the University of Wyoming Research Center in nearby Powell, to continually test new varieties that brewers are interested in.”

Each spring, while growers are busy planting the next crop of Briess barley for American craft beer, specialists at the UW Research Center are planting small test plots of potential new varieties for brewers. “That will help determine if a new variety will fit their needs while also benefiting our growers with higher yields and quality.Some Briess growers also help Briess develop new varieties by growing larger plots up to several acres to help us scale up for pilot malting and brewing.

The distinctive physical characteristics of potential new barley varieties are obvious at the UW Research Center, where test plots of new varieties are grown.

Why all the fuss?
When Briess took control of its barley supply chain several years ago, it wanted not only a consistent supply of barley, but a consistent supply of extremely high-quality barley. Every step of the journey—from selecting pure barley seed to shipping finished product—is quality driven. That’s what lead Briess to the Bighorn Basin barley growing region, where conditions come together like a perfect storm to grow extremely high-quality barley. An arid climate, unique flood irrigation systems, hot days and cool nights, good rotation with competing crops or other crops, and exceptionally talented growers who have been honing their barley growing skills in this region for generations come together to produce barley that is extremely bright, plump and low protein.

During last summer’s Bighorn Barley Tour, Briess barley grower Josh Christofferson (center) demonstrates to brewers how to manually start a siphon that will direct flood irrigated water into barley fields.

It’s the perfect fit for premium, American craft beer. By securing the barley production of the Bighorn Barley for American craft beer, Briess is assured that we can supply American craft brewers with the highest quality malt craft brewers seek for many years to come.

Heart Mountain is an icon in the Bighorn Basin. In the foreground, mountain water flows through canals eventually getting diverted into malting barley and other specialty crop fields.

By the way, if you ever get a chance to take the drive through the Bighorn Basin, you’re in for a treat. This flat, high plains desert is surrounded by sage-brush covered foothills and towering mountains. Mountain water is captured and delivered to fields via unique flood irrigation systems, transforming the Basin into a rich agricultural region each summer.  You’ll see flood irrigation canals, fields, farms, ranches, livestock, a few vehicles—mostly trucks—and, of course, mountains and foothills. Stunning.

Watch for spring planting pictures. Cheers and happy craft brewing!