Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Some of Montana’s dry field barley farmers had a bad year.
Montana Barley Fields Become Front Line For Climate Change And Beer
January 11, 20188:00 AM ET
A bumper sticker spotted in Montana reads, “No barley, no beer.” It’s a reminder that Montana’s barley farmers are struggling. Barley is an unforgiving crop that needs a precise recipe of water and sunshine to thrive — too much of either will cause it to wither and die. And amid a changing climate and unpredictable seasons, that’s exactly what’s happening.
Food and climate reporter Ari LeVaux (@AriLeVaux) joins Here & Now‘s Robin Young to talk about his recent article on the issue, reported in collaboration with The Weather Channel and the Food & Environment Reporting Network.
On visiting Montana barley fields during a flash drought
“In this case, [the fields] were dried up about two months early. That particular field had a dry-farmed crop of barley. We had to make a distinction in Montana between irrigated barley, in which the grower can turn the water on when necessary, and dry-farmed, in which the crop is planted and then hopefully harvested at the end of the season, but not much is done in between. So that dead field was a dry-farmed field that dried up in the flash drought of 2017. May and June were nice and wet, and all of a sudden the water stopped and the heat set in, and just did not relent, and by the time I made it out there, this was about three weeks into the flash drought and the barley was starting to die.”
On how the farmers talk — and don’t talk — about climate change
“It’s still a taboo subject in red-state America. Nobody wants to use it, even though they see it happening all around them. So they come up with different ways of talking about what’s happening around them, like, ‘The weather sure is different,’ or ‘unseasonable,’ or ‘Mother Nature is really effing with us.’ Maybe you could say, ‘Well, the climate’s kinda changing a little bit.’ But you couldn’t say ‘climate change.’ ”
On farmers discussing climate change in private
“Especially the younger farmers. As for why they don’t actually talk about it with each other, it’s an interesting question.”
The original article referenced in the interview was posted in December;
Climate change threatens Montana’s barley farmers – and possibly your beer
Warmer and more unpredictable weather has made it ever more challenging to grow malt barley, a crop that must meet exacting standards before it can be brewed into beer.
By Ari LeVaux, December 13, 2017
The heat last summer in Montana was brutal and unprecedented. Dry winds fanned wildfires across one million acres, ravaging grasslands in the eastern part of the state and scorching the timbered mountains west of the continental divide. In the tiny town of Power, which sits in the foothills of the Rockies, smack in the middle of the state’s grain belt, the smoke wasn’t as bad as elsewhere. But the relentless heat and lack of rain posed a serious threat to the area. This “flash drought,” as it became known, was devastating the crop that has driven the local economy for three generations: malt barley.
People in distress are sometimes more receptive to false narratives.
The Flathead Indian Irrigation Project was established in 1908 to help farmers through bad years. Parts of Montana are currently suffering a severe drought, but droughts in Montana are not a new phenomenon.
A better irrigation network and greater reservoir capacity, to reduce dependency on the vagaries of the weather, would help barley farmers a lot more than the usual climate remedies. Wind turbines and solar panels would not help direct more rain to the fields of dryland farmers suffering through a drought.