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Saturday, 29 April 2017 06:00

Beer industry to boost support for hop and barley research

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As federal budget cuts threaten funding for research into hops and barley, industry groups like the Brewers Association have stepped up their investment in various scientific programs. As federal budget cuts threaten funding for research into hops and barley, industry groups like the Brewers Association have stepped up their investment in various scientific programs. MiBiz File Photo by Joe Boomgaard

Proposed federal budget cuts have the potential to wipe out key hop and barley research programs that have helped improve the quality of the raw material supply chain for craft brewers. 

While funding sources vary, many current programs receive grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose budget President Donald Trump has proposed to cut by $4.7 billion for the 2018 fiscal year. 

With that research funding threatened, the craft brewing industry is examining ways to step in and fill what could amount to a significant gap. 

For its part, the Brewers Association, a Boulder, Colo.-based trade group representing craft brewers, plans to increase its funding for research projects to more than $500,000 in 2017. In 2016, the organization funded 22 projects with $403,000. 

Executive Director Bob Pease believes private industry and trade groups “absolutely” will need to step in to supplement funding for hop and barley research in the coming years. 

“We’re under the assumption that every federal agency is on the chopping block of some sort,” Pease said. “We’re very proud to be in a position to contribute and give back to the overall industry. We think this will have long-lasting effects.”

So far this year, the Brewers Association has awarded grants to a variety of projects including genetics research on barley for beer flavor through Oregon State University, a winter barley study through the University of Nebraska, and a public breeding research and soil quality study on hops through the Idaho Hop Commission, among others. 

In addition to specific projects, the Brewers Association also is working with the House Small Brewers Caucus to secure an additional $1 million in hop-related research for the USDA’s agricultural research service for the 2018 fiscal year, Pease said. 

Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio and Pennsylvania Republican Mike Kelly formed the bipartisan House Small Brewers Caucus in 2007. The group now includes 187 members across 41 states. 

FURTHERING PARTNERSHIPS 

Regardless of the proposed budget cuts on the federal level, Ashley McFarland, an educator who focuses on barley for the Michigan State University Extension, predicts an uptick in public-private partnerships.

“I think it is going to be important for both farmers and researchers to work more closely with those end users and try to do more grassroots funding for some of those projects,” McFarland said. 

For example, McFarland points to how the Michigan Brewers Guild earmarked funding for barley research in Michigan through the American Malting Barley Association as an example of a model that could increase in popularity. 

“I think that relationships like that are probably going to be the new norm and we’re going to see a lot of agricultural research trend in that direction,” McFarland said. 

The Brewers Association has also funded some of MSU’s malting barley research.

McFarland said malting barley researchers are accustomed to finding alternative sources of funding for their projects as the crop is not considered a specialty crop or a commodity crop, which precludes it from some forms of federal funding. 

“We’re kind of in some gray area that we have to already find more alternative funding sources for,” she said. 

KEY RESEARCH AREAS

Most hop and barley research focuses on disease resistance and expanding the areas where the crops can be grown. Specifically, MSU Extension is seeking grant funding to research winter barley, which McFarland believes could greatly expand malting barley production in the southern portion of Michigan. 

So far, the Extension’s winter barley research has been funded internally through MSU, but McFarland plans to apply for grant funding through the Brewers Association to continue the program. 

“Making sure that we can keep that project alive I think is going to be important and key for the state,” she said.

John Mallett, director of operations at Comstock-based Bell’s Brewery Inc., said research into hops and barley is particularly important as brewers brace for the effects of climate change. 

“As brewers, we are inherently dependent on the bounty of mother nature and the apparent shifting climate has a number of us interested in making sure there is a security of supply there,” Mallett said. “We really need to be out in front of it.” 

Read 2397 times Last modified on Saturday, 29 April 2017 06:50

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