By: Steven Edwardson, Administrator, North Dakota Barley Council

The recent announcement by Cargill Malt to close the malting facility in Spiritwood, North Dakota, has generated concern for barley producers in North Dakota.

“The loss of a buyer in the marketplace results in less competition and potentially more volatility in barley production in North Dakota,” states Doyle Lentz, chairman of the board of directors of the North Dakota Barley Council, a grower organization that represents the barley producers of North Dakota. “This is the only malt house of its size and scale in North Dakota, and its 40 plus year history of productivity certainly impacts the agricultural economy of the state.”

“North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho are the top 3 barley producing states in the U. S.,” said Lentz. “North Dakota accounts for approximately 25% of area planted to barley in the U. S., and between 25% and 35% of U. S. production. Barley producers in North Dakota have a long history of being reliable suppliers to the malting and brewing industry, and we hope that the malting facility in Spiritwood will transfer to a new owner that will continue to produce malt from North Dakota six-row and two-row varieties for the brewing industry.”

North Dakota currently ranks third in barley production in the United States, a position it trades with Montana and Idaho depending upon the year. Malting barley in North Dakota has transitioned from an open market crop to a contracted specialty crop. Acreage in any given year is dependent upon the quantity of production contracted by the malting and brewing industry.

Historically, North Dakota has produced mostly six-row barley; however, production trends indicate a decline in six-row and an increase in two-row production. “Ten years ago, North Dakota was approximately 80% six-row and 20% two-row,” states Lentz. “Today, that ratio is closer to two thirds six-row and one third two-row. Growers have been shifting to more two row production to meet industry needs.

Barley breeding programs have also adapted to the migration to more two-row barley production. “The barley breeding program at North Dakota State University has released new two-row varieties that are suited to North Dakota climatic conditions,” said Lentz. “Growers are willing to supply what the industry wants as long as the crop is profitable. North Dakota growers can produce two-row barley as well as six-row barley.”

While concerned, growers remain optimistic for the future of barley production in North Dakota. “There are currently many unknowns for growers regarding the future status of the malting facility in Spiritwood,” states Lentz. “As growers, we will maintain contact with Cargill Malt to monitor the transition and communicate the importance of this infrastructure to North Dakota agriculture.”

For more information, please contact Steven Edwardson at