USDA to provide malt barley crop insurance for 44 New York counties

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have announced that following their push, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will finally provide malt barley crop insurance to farmers in the 44 counties throughout New York where malt barley is grown, including Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Erie counties.

“Craft breweries and distilleries pour local products and jobs into our economy and that’s why I fought so hard to expand malt barley insurance to 44 counties in New York,” said Schumer. “I am pleased that the USDA has heeded the call and am confident that our malt houses, craft breweries, and distilleries will now have the resources they need to meet the future requirements of New York’s Farm Brewing Law, helping our farmers, malt houses, distillers, and brewers tap into their full potential.”

“New York’s barley growers are the backbone of our state’s world-renowned brewing and distilling industries, and I was proud to lead the fight to make sure our barley growers have access to the crop insurance protections they need from USDA to do their jobs and keep up with the growing demand for their products,” said Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Malting barley is one of the fastest-growing parts of New York’s farm economy, and I will continue to do everything I can on the Senate Agriculture Committee to make sure New York’s farmers can continue to provide our farm-based brewers and distillers with high-quality New York barley.”

Last year, Schumer and Gillibrand successfully pushed the USDA to bring malt barley insurance to four New York counties, but argued that the USDA should continue expanding New York’s access to crop insurance coverage. Malt barley is a necessary ingredient in beer and spirits and, as a result of New York’s Farm Brewing Law, the state will soon require craft brewers and distillers to source 90 percent of ingredients from local farms and malt houses. Schumer and Gillibrand said that expanding malt barley crop insurance means that even more farmers will be able to grow malt barley, ensuring that the craft brewing industry has the resources it needs to continue to grow upstate.

Previously, the lack of crop insurance hindered the rapid expansion of the craft brewing industry and therefore job creation in Upstate New York. Malt barley needs specific conditions to grow, and severe weather can completely knock out an entire crop. Without the assurance that the malt barley would be insured in the event of severe weather or a poor crop year, many farmers could not afford to produce a risky ingredient and experience a potential loss without adequate coverage. This increased risk and cost scared off many potential growers in the state. However, with the expansion of crop insurance for farmers in New York, Schumer and Gillibrand have ensured growers have the security they need to grow production and meet the demand of a rapidly expanding industry.

Schumer and Gillibrand explained alongside water, yeast, and hops, barley is one of the major components of beer and of many spirits produced by distilleries. Malt consists of barley that is germinated and then dried under highly controlled conditions. These conditions help to release the enzymes needed to convert the barley starches into sugars. These sugars are then fed to yeast through the process of fermentation, which ultimately creates the final product — alcohol. Schumer and Gillibrand explained that many New York farmers are beginning to grow this barley, which ends up being used to make spirits.

Schumer and Gillibrand noted that the craft brewing industry has been growing throughout New York State over the past few years. This growth has increased the need for local ingredients, like hops and malt barley. The hops industry has already taken off, however hops are needed in much smaller quantities than malt barley. For example, to make a typical half-keg worth of beer (15.5 gallons) less than 5 pounds of hops would be required. Conversely, the amount of malt barley needed ranges from 35 to 50 pounds. As a result, New York State will need more farmers to grow barley and more malt houses to convert that barley into malt if the suppliers are to keep up with industry needs.

This victory will be instrumental in enabling the craft brewing industry to thrive. Over the next decade, New York State is expected to require farm brewers and distillers to source 90 percent of ingredients from local farms and malt houses. Currently, 20 percent of all hops and 20 percent of all other ingredients, including malt barley, used by farm brewers licensed by the New York Farm Bureau are required to be grown or produced in New York State. However, by 2019, that proportion is expected to jump to 60 percent. By 2024, New York law will require no less than 90 percent of all farm craft beer ingredients be grown or produced locally within the state. According to the New York State Brewers Association, while only the breweries and distilleries licensed as farm breweries are the ones required by law to meet the 60 percent (2019) and 90 percent (2024) ingredient requirements, most non-farm craft breweries and distilleries are also increasing their sourcing from local areas, so the pressure is mounting to supply more New York State-grown ingredients in the coming years. Right now, New York State has approximately 2,000 acres of malt barley. According to data from Cornell Cooperative Extension, there are 13 malt houses either in operation or planning to open in New York, as well as 39 farms engaged in growing malt barley. It is estimated that malt barley production will have to grow fifteen-fold in the near term to meet the needs of state brewers and distillers. Malt barley crop insurance will ensure that farmers are able to meet this demand and it will protect growers from losing their livelihoods from a severe weather incident.

Last year, Schumer and Gillibrand successfully pushed the USDA to bring malt barley insurance to Cortland, Otsego, Ontario and Genesee counties for the first time, but argued that the USDA needed to continue expanding access to crop Insurance coverage. After pushing for an expansion in April, Schumer and Gillibrand have secured a victory for the craft brewing industry by establishing crop insurance for all New York malt barley farmers.

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