Senator Urges USDA to Expand Barley Crop Insurance

Local farming community members interviewed Tuesday supported an initiative by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to expand barley crop insurance throughout the state.

On Tuesday she wrote to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand barley insurance coverage to all New York counties where production is possible. Delaware and Otsego counties are among the 28 already covered.

“Expanding crop insurance for barley is a crucial first step to sustain and improve the viability of our farms and connected industries,” she said.

Scott Fickbohm is an environmental analyst for the the state Soil and Water Committee who headed the Otsego County department for eight years. He is working privately on developing a malt house in Oneonta that would use New York-grown barley.

The Generations Malting Company recently received a $250,000 state Regional Economic Development Council award to address a bottleneck in the process.

“Anything that helps farmers reduce their risk is worthwhile,” he said.

Gillibrand noted that the insurance would afford additional protection to growers of barley and help farmers meet the current demands of local breweries and distilleries, Gillibrand said.

Since 2011, there has been a 72 percent increase in farm based breweries, cideries, and distilleries in New York, which has created significant demand for barley and other small grains, she said.

Franklin farmer Andy Kiraly said he has grown as much as 15 acres of barley per year. For the last two years this has included malt barley.

The latter hasn’t yet met the more stringent malt house specifications, he said. This could earn him more than double the price of conventional barley used for livestock, which can be worth $150 a ton, he said.

Kiraly said at this point, he has little to lose because if it doesn’t make the grade, it can be fed to the heifers and beef cattle he raises. He said he might insure the crop if he increased production. The insurance would help farmers take the risk, he said, and should be available to all those who want to make the effort.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County senior resource educator Paul Cerosaletti said more barley has been grown in the area for the last few years. Overall, about 11,000 acres of barley are planted statewide, he said.

With the focus on local brewing, the insurance could help farmers who wanted to supply the market while reducing their risk, he said, adding that it can be a challenge to control the fungal disease that can affect barley grown in the area.

In her letter, Gillibrand wrote, “A key to encouraging producers to plant these crops is to ensure that they can manage their risk with appropriate crop protection programs. Also expanding crop insurance would help meet the growing demand of the brewery and distillery industries here in New York.”

Source: Oneonta Daily Star

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