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Playing With Matches

We had a quite a show the other day at Rogue Farms in Tygh Valley. That’s where we grow and malt the barley for Rogue Spirits.


Flames 100 feet tall. Smoke even higher. An entire barley field burned away.

But this wasn’t an accident or an act of nature. We started the fire so we can grow better barley.

A Wasco County firefighter monitors the field burn at Rogue Farms.
A Wasco County firefighter monitors the field burn at Rogue Farms.

Farmers have been using field burning for centuries. But it’s got to be done carefully and under tight supervision. In Oregon, we need a special permit from the state fire marshal and can only burn under certain weather conditions.

First thing to do is plow a fire break around the field to keep the fire contained. Then we start the fire at the edges so the flames creep towards the center.

The intense heat creates its own mini-weather like this small funnel.
The intense heat creates its own mini-weather like this small funnel.

Field burning has several benefits. It kills off weeds, weed seeds and disease that remain in the field stubble after harvest. The burning also releases minerals that are trapped in the plant cellulose. As soon as possible after the burn, we plow the field so the minerals go right back into the soil. That way we can use less fertilizer. One of the challenges of growing malting barley is that it’s easy to over fertilize. Too much fertilizer pushes up protein levels – making it harder to get good malt and putting an ugly haze in the beer.

When the fires converge, the flames and smoke leap high into the air.
When the fires converge, the flames and smoke leap high into the air.

When the fires have cooled down, we follow up with plowing, discing and harrowing. All these steps loosen the soil, smooth the texture and create a nice level field for seeding the crop. We just got the seed for the 2014 crop of Risk™ malting barley and planting begins any day.

The next time you open one of Rogue Farms Spirits, think of how your drink was born in fire.

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