U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D–N.Y., is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish a crop insurance program for Central New York farmers who grow malt barley.
Speaking at the Empire Farmstead Brewery in Madison County, New York, on Aug. 20, Schumer explained that malt barley is a crop that is crucial to the continued growth of the area’s burgeoning craft beer industry.
But Schumer said there is currently no federally backed insurance coverage for malt barley in New York State — even though farmers in other states do have coverage — which severely hampers local farmers’ ability to grow the amount of malt barley needed to meet the demand of local craft brewers.
The senator said multiple farms and farmstead breweries in Central New York are already growing malt barley to meet local demand, but malt barley needs very specific conditions to grow and severe weather can completely knock out an entire crop.
“Breweries and distilleries throughout the Central New York region pour local products and jobs into our economy, which is why it is important we continue to support this industry and provide them with the tools needed to succeed,” said Schumer. “In order for local craft brewers to expand right here in Central New York and beyond, we need a strong local malt barley industry, since the crop is so important to the production of beer and spirits.”
But without the insurance protection, the risk is just too high, he said, “and that is preventing our craft breweries from really taking off.”
In order to meet the demand of craft brewers, New York State will need to increase its malt barley production by 15 times, but malt barley farmers need crop insurance to meet that goal, Schumer said.
“That is why I am calling on the USDA to bring the national malt barley crop insurance program to New York State,” he said. “It is already available in other states and for other types of barley; it is time to make it available here in order for our farmers, distillers and brewers to really tap into their full potential.”
New York State currently has approximately 2,000 acres of malt barley, some of which is grown in the Central New York region. 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.
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