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Waiting For El Nino To Save Our Barley

It’s been a tough autumn for our malting barley.


Like we always do, we planted our Risk™ 2-row variety in early November. Then we waited for the shoots to emerge. Weeks went by and nothing happened. Our fields were as empty as the day we planted them. What was going on?

Here’s a field we plowed, disced, harrowed and seeded. But without rain – nothing was growing.
Here’s a field we plowed, disced, harrowed and seeded. But without rain – nothing was growing.

The drought that’s gripped this part of Oregon over the past four years wasn’t letting go. Freshly planted barley needs water to grow. But it hadn’t rained in weeks. Everyone around here says this is the driest fall season in 40 years. The El Niño that delivered so much rain and snow to California has avoided us so far.

Making things tougher, our supply of irrigation water was cut by 38% because of the drought. We used it up by the end of summer. We couldn’t open the taps if we wanted. Without some rain or snow we’d be in trouble, possibly losing the crop.

Seeding one of our fields with Risk™ malting barley.
Seeding one of our fields with Risk™ malting barley.

And then, just before Thanksgiving, rain fell and the shoots emerged.

The first shoots of the season, thanks to 1 to 2 inches of rain that fell a few days earlier.
The first shoots of the season, thanks to 1 to 2 inches of rain that fell a few days earlier.

Even better, snow came over the Thanksgiving holiday, covering our barley like a white blanket. Snow is best because it protects the shoots from cold temperatures. When it’s warm, the snow melts, slowing releasing moisture into the soil.

Barley in snow. There’s a photo that puts a smile on our faces.
Barley in snow. There’s a photo that puts a smile on our faces.

Was it El Niño? It’s hard to say. Even with one of the strongest ever El Niño events hitting the West Coast, the long term forecast for Rogue Farms calls just normal amounts of rain. That’s enough to get us through winter and spring.

But El Niño is also expected to make this a warm winter, which could lead to another year of low snowpack on Mt. Hood. If that happens, we’ll be short on irrigation water (again) next summer and fall. For now, all we can do is wait and see.

Mt. Hood overlooking our barley fields.
Mt. Hood overlooking our barley fields.

When we started growing our own ingredients some folks thought we were crazy. Why would anyone want to take on risks like drought, heatwaves, hailstorms and wildfires?

We did it because we wanted to really know our ingredients – how they were grown, how they were processed, the quality and their origin. Yes, we’re crazy. But we’re also dreamers and optimists.

Dare. Risk. Dream.

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