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Barley insurance extended

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Chuck Rhoades, owner of Willet Hop and Grain, walks through a field of barley Saturday on his farm in Willet. The federal government is extending insurance protections to support the growing hops and barley industry in the state.

Chuck Rhoades heard the news Friday morning: Crop insurance for malting barley has been expanded to farmers in 44 counties in the state, adding to a list that Cortland was on.

The number of farm-based craft beverage producers has more than tripled since 2011, to 647 producers from 205, according to a release from the governor’s press office. The number of farm distilleries grew from just 10 in 2010 to 115 today, while 166 businesses have obtained farm brewery licenses since the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013.

The industry needs barley and Rhoades is growing it.

“Barley is more difficult to grow,” said Rhoades.

A rule of thumb is three out of five crops are good, the other two become feed, Rhoades said.

The insurance coverage options have expanded to growers in 44 counties in New York state starting in 2018. The expansion follows the state’s Wine, Beer, Spirits and Cider Summit in 2014 where Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state would initiate talks with the USDA to provide crop insurance for malting barley growers across the state.

“By providing a safety net for more malt barley producers, we are providing New York farmers with the ability to diversify what they grow, while helping to meet the demand of this state’s booming craft beverage industry,” Cuomo said. “Make no mistake: this is a win-win that helps our agricultural sector help new craft breweries, wineries and distilleries in every corner of the state, creating jobs and spurring economic activity in the process.”

Rhoades had not yet reviewed details of the announcement. “I haven’t had a chance to go through the details, but I assume it’ll be a good thing,” he said.

The insurance will help cover losses of crop from natural events such as adverse weather conditions, insect damage and plant disease; and will help mitigate the risk farmers take in planting this relatively new crop in the state, according to the release.

Malting barley is primarily for the craft brewery and making beer, said Janice Degni, field crop specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County. “It (malting barley) has the incentive to be a growing industry.”

Degni said the crop has some strict growing guidelines and some becomes feed instead of going into a brew. “It’s not an easy crop to grow.”

Rhoades bought his farm in 2014 to grow hops. It all began with one thought. “It was a romantic notion I guess,” he said.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s the state was one of the largest producers of hops, Rhoades said. His farm has grown in the past few years. Rhoades uses 17 acres to grow his hop crop and 32 acres grows barley, he said.

Farming the hops and barley is difficult work, it’s hard labor and capital intensive, Rhoades said. “I like a high bar.”

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