It’s a busy but exciting time of year in Bighorn Barley country right now, with the annual malting barley harvest in full swing. Harvest typically starts about the third week in July, when the first truckloads of barley randomly begin rolling into the Briess elevator in Ralston, WY.
Now, at the peak of harvest, truckloads of freshly harvested barley start arriving at the break of dawn and continue until dusk. Like the growers, our elevator and lab staff work seven days a week until the bulk of our contracted barley has been delivered.
Ralston Operations Manager Rick Redd explains that each truckload of barley takes approximately 10 minutes to probe, test and dump. As harvest picks up, however, drivers normally have to wait in line for 30 minutes up to two hours. On a busy year, there can be up to 100 trucks in line every morning. During the peak of harvest, Briess staff typically process up to about 2o0 truckloads of freshly harvested barley daily. The most they’ve received in one day is 283 truckloads. Think of all the craft beer that would make!
So, how do the growers know when it’s time to harvest their barley? By looking at the plants. Rick says the barley needs to be golden color with no green, heads are tipped down and kernels are hard and dry. It takes very experienced growers to know the ins and outs of growing malting barley, and recognize the perfect time to harvest for optimum quality based on sight, smell and feel.
Harvest usually lasts 6 weeks, but it can be longer depending on weather, Rick adds. The biggest challenges during harvest are keeping the machinery running…and the weather. The most fun part of harvest, Rick says, is seeing the growers deliver the fruits of their labors for several months of hard work. For him, Rick said seeing his crew work together as one unit to keep things moving, and striving to help the growers and Briess succeed are very rewarding.
During harvest, the Briess team of full-timers are joined by two to five extra folks who help in the lab, elevator and anywhere additional hands are needed. Some of these seasonal assistants come back every year. Staffing needs depend upon volumes and rail shipments.
The Ralston staff is exceptionally experienced and know our growers by first name. When a grower or ranch hand delivers a truckload, they’re greeted by a cooler filled with cold water (temperatures average in the mid to high 80s in August), and a personal greeting from Rick, Judy, Tammy or other staff while their truckload of barley is automatically probed and immediately tested by the lab.
It’s common for barley deliveries to be a family affair. Many growers in the Bighorn Basin operate family ranches, with second to fifth generations running the farm. And grandparents or parents frequently bring their children along for the ride to the elevator, which can be as far as 70 miles away.
Please join all of us at Briess in wishing our growers a safe and rewarding 2018 barley harvest. Cheers!