July 12-13, we hosted our first annual “Briess Bighorn Barley Tour” in the heart of barley country. This two-day event gave 15 brewers from across the country an intimate look at Briess’ barley operations in Wyoming. Briess works with more than 300 barley growers in Wyoming and Southern Montana. This region is also very unique and unlike any other barley growing region in the world.
The Wyoming Bighorn Basin only has about six inches of precipitation a year, making the region dependent on the water stored in the Buffalo Bill Reservoir. Barley thrives in this arid climate because nearly all of the water the plant receives is controlled by the farmer. Since water rarely touches the canopy of the maturing plants, growers can control when plants receive water through corrugation-flood irrigation. This makes the barley more resistant to disease and staining – producing high-quality, bright, plump kernels.
During the two-day event, attendees had the opportunity to visit several of the barley grower’s farms. At a stop at Dennis Reed’s farm (Reed Farm, Inc.), brewers learned about his growing practices and examine the plump, bright Merit 57 being grown in the fields for the 2017 harvest.
The first stop on the tour was to the Buffalo Bill Dam to see the essential water source of the Bighorn Basin. The Wyoming Bighorn Basin only has about six inches of precipitation each year, making the region dependent on the water stored in the Buffalo Bill Reservoir.
Jason Perkins of Allagash Brewing Company and Peter Bouckaert of New Belgium Brewing Co. chat as they explore the Buffalo Bill Dam just outside of Cody, WY.
The Bighorn Barley Class of 2017 line up in front of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir for a photo-op next to the historic wooden plug that was once used to close the flow of the dam.
James Murray from Ballast Point overlooks the Corbett Dam and Shoshone River. The Corbett Dam is a part of the Shoshone Irrigation Project, which supplies water to many of the barley fields in the Bighorn Basin.
Outside of the Briess Seed Plant in Powell, WY, the group learns about Briess’ vertical integration.
We took a trip to the University of Wyoming Research Center in Powell, WY, to examine numerous barley test plots of and learned about different varieties of barley being researched at the UW.
A highlight for many of the attendees was getting a first-hand experience hand pumping aluminum pipes to irrigate the barley field. Josh Christopherson, Briess Barley Grower (middle), teaches Simon Nielsen of Central Waters (left) and Peter Bouckaert (right) how to operate a corrugated flood irrigation system.
After successfully hand pumping an aluminum pipe for irrigation, Laura Houser of Founders Brewing Co. celebrates with a high five to her barley grower coach, Josh Christopherson.
Tour guide and Shoshone Irrigation District Manager, Bryant Startin, talks with a brewer while overlooking the Buffalo Bill Reservoir.
The group overlooks the Shoshone River at Corbett Dam, one of the main water sources for many of the growers in the Cody and Powell areas. Water comes from the Buffalo Bill Reservoir and is distributed throughout the irrigation systems. Without the water from the reservoir, the land would be covered in sagebrush and barren land.
Briess Barley Grower, Josh Christopherson, and his family next to their family barley field. Josh is a first-generation barley grower and decided early on his life dream was to become a farmer and raise his family in the country.
Briess Division Manager – Brew East, takes a photo for fellow New Englander, Jason Perkins of Allagash (Portland, ME).
Fred Hopkin, a third-generation farmer from Powell, WY, talks to the group about the importance of barley to the local economy and how it fits in well with his rotations of sugar beets and pinto beans. Fred has a very diverse growing portfolio ranging from corn to mustard seeds, alfalfa seeds, hybrid carrot seeds, and he also raises Angus cattle.
The Briess Ralston, WY, Barley Operations sets in the “Heart” of the Bighorn Basin. In the distance, behind the elevators, you can see the iconic Heart Mountain. This facility also sits along the Burlington Northern railroad, making convenient and direct transportation to our Barley Operations Facility in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.