August 26, 2008

Hailstorm Damages Barley Crop

By Roger Fillion

A severe hailstorm in south central Colorado earlier this month wiped out part of the barley crop that MillerCoors and Anheuser- Busch use to brew beer.

A MillerCoors spokesman said the Aug. 16 storm that battered the San Luis Valley would not affect its beer production or prices. An Anheuser-Busch spokesman declined to comment beyond a written statement.

The storm, the worst in recent memory, caused an estimated $42.4 million in crop damage in the worst-hit areas of Saguache County, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. The storm also rolled across northern Rio Grande and Alamosa counties.

It wreaked havoc on the region's potato, barley, wheat, alfalfa and lettuce crops. Malted barley is a basic ingredient in beer. It plays a role similar to what grapes play in wine.

Both MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch buy two-row barley from farmers under contract in the San Luis Valley.

"We lost 10 percent of our crop, which represents about 3 percent of our total overall crop," said MillerCoors spokesman Julian Green.

"We're still assessing the situation," added Green. "But the loss in Center, Colo., will not affect our beer production. And the crops are looking very good everywhere else."

MillerCoors buys malting barley from hundreds of growers in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch said the storm damaged about 15 percent of the barley it buys from growers in the San Luis Valley.

"Area growers have begun harvesting the unaffected crops, and we are very encouraged by the quality of the barley in this year's harvest," Richard Redd, region manager for Busch Agricultural Resources Inc., said.

An Anheuser-Busch spokesman declined to say what, if any, impact the damage might cause.

Anheuser-Busch buys barley from growers in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota.

The hailstorm hit an estimated 28,640 acres of crops in the worst affected areas of Saguache County, according to the Farm Service Agency.

"I've been here 25 years and haven't seen one like that," said Don Greenstreet, head of the FSA's offices in Monte Vista and Center.

Originally published by Roger Fillion, Rocky Mountain News.

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