During the last two days in January, I had the wonderful experience of visiting the Briess Barley Operations in Northwest Wyoming. This was my first visit to our barley elevator in Ralston and seed plant in Powell. I journeyed to Wyoming simply expecting to see a dozen gigantic bins and a large seed cleaning system. What I found was that and something much more memorable; an impressive culture of quality and a world-class group of Briess employees.

Back row left to right: Rick Redd (Regional Manager), Cameron Barker (Production Manager), Tammy Schalla (Lab Technician), Brad Meredith (Operator), Judy Bullinger (Office Manager) and front row: Ken Campbell (Lead Operator/EHS Coordinator).

On day one, Betsy Roberts (Quality Manager of Malting) and I met up with Rick, Cameron, Kenny and Brad to tour the seed plant. Barley seed is both cleaned and treated at this location. Cleaning promotes uniformity in the size of the barley kernels, which encourages uniform growth in the field. Most maltsters have the first opportunity to control their own quality when their barley is received at the malthouse; we have the added benefit of controlling our quality before the seed is ever even planted in the ground.

Betsy is a Briess celebrity! For the entire month of January, she couldn’t go anywhere at work without seeing her face on the wall 😉
Cameron showing us how barley seed moves through this cleaning system where it is sized and screened to promote uniformity and eliminate foreign material.
After it is cleaned, barley seed moves through the treatment leg (left) at a controlled rate. The pink dye makes it visually apparent that treatment has been applied (right).
This vintage Chevy truck, complete with Big Wonderful Wyoming mud flaps, is used to haul seed from cleaning to treatment at the Powell Seed Plant.
The Powell Seed Plant is buzzing with activity November – May each year. These six months of seed cleaning and treating are necessary to keep up with planting demands of the nearly 300 growers we contract within Wyoming and Montana. Approximately 80% are located within 60 miles of this seed plant.

On day two, Betsy and I were joined by Bob Hansen (Manager of Technical Services) for a tour of the Ralston Barley Elevator. We had the immensely good fortune of staying on-site at the Briess cabin, which provided breathtaking views.

Gorgeous view of the Briess Barley Elevator overlaying the distant mountains at sunrise.

Once we arrived at the barley elevator, Judy and Tammy led us through a tour of the barley quality laboratory. During the busy harvest season, these women are joined by a few seasonal employees who help them process a seemingly endless flow of barley trucks. An exterior robotic arm allows the technicians to remotely sample barley from each incoming truck and vacuum transport it into the lab. Judy told us about a fun tradition they have of inviting children of the growers to operate this robotic arm and sample their own family’s barley. Even in the busy chaos of the harvest season, Judy and Tammy take the time to demonstrate how much they truly care for our grower community.

The robotic arm controlling experience was thoroughly enjoyed by Bob.

I was in awe of the expertise that Judy and Tammy bring to Briess. Whether the barley is accepted or rejected is entirely up to them and their highly trained seasonal staff. Judy showed me a library of barley defect training samples that displayed various forms of disease and damage. She has an impressive ability to quickly identify quality defects and confidently determine if the barley should be accepted for malting quality, feed quality, or rejected altogether. 

Top left to bottom right, these samples display heat damage (revealed when the barley kernels are pearled), chemical damage (occurs when the barley plant is treated with herbicide at an inappropriate time), frost damage (occurs when the kernels are exposed to below freezing temperatures), and pre-harvest sprout (can be visually detected in barley that has been pearled and is the result of barley that has begun to germinate in the field).

In the afternoon, we met up with Rick to tour the barley elevator. Knowing that the elevator was “large” did not prepare me for the overwhelming size of the bins, especially when we walked inside an empty one. Each bin is equipped with floor-to-ceiling temperature sensors and an airflow system. Barley that has been loaded from the field is warm — and if not actively cooled, it will remain warm throughout the storage season. It is very important to keep the barley cool and dry, so insect life cycles are not promoted and the barley will maintain high malting quality. Please reach out to us if you have questions about the growing, cleaning, or transportation process.

8 smaller bins (left) and 4 larger bins (right) hold 100,000 and 800,000 bushels of barley each.
Exterior fans (left) and perforated bin floors (right) allow air to move through the mass of grain in these bins, keeping barley temperatures around 50°F year-round.
These bins are emptied by gravity until the depth of grain becomes shallow enough for a giant screw (right) to rotate in a circular motion and dump the barley into holes (left) that lead to an underground conveying system.
This barley elevator was once the workplace of a highly innovative employee. When positioning empty railcars to load barley, he did not have a clear line of sight to the rope on the pulley system to see if the system was engaged. Rather than waiting for the delayed response of the distant railcars eventually moving toward him, he fashioned a totem pole of bicycle tires to immediately signal that the system was engaged!