Despite a late spring, early-season hail damage and late-season rains, the 2023 barley crop in Idaho had a record-breaking year for average yield, making it the second-largest harvest in the state’s history.

Woolsey cassidy
Managing Editor / Ag Proud – Idaho
Cassidy is a contributing editor to Progressive Cattle and Progressive Forage magazines.

According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Idaho barley growers yielded 60.5 million bushels, trailing the 2016 record of 62.1 million bushels. The average barley yield reached 112 bushels per acre, a slight increase from the 2022 record of 111 bushels per acre.

Barley growers Nathan Scafe (Ashton), Mike Wilkins (Rupert) and Steve Samowitz (Soda Springs) share insights from their 2023 growing season and plans for 2024.

How was the 2023 growing season for barley on your farm?

SCAFE: The yields were good, but a lot of it got sprouted. Most of our barley goes to Anheuser-Busch, and they have already taken some that was 8%-10% sprouted, but we still have a lot to go. They say they are going to take it, but it just depends on if it keeps working to malt or not. My yields were good – maybe a little above average – but the quality was kind of bad just because of all the rains we had during harvest.

WILKINS: We had a rough start; it was dry, and then it turned too wet. But, once it warmed up, the growing year was really good. It didn't get too hot, so that's what made our quality. It wasn’t our best year in terms of yield, but it’s up in the top 5%. Our quality was really good, probably as good as we’ve ever had.


SAMOWITZ: Where we are a 100% dry farm, we may have seen a greater yield bump than maybe some of the irrigated growers. I would say it was one of our better years. Quality-wise, we had great quality, but with the shortened window for harvest, we had to cut it a little bit sooner than we would have liked. We’ve had a little bit of a challenge trying to dry our grain down to the right quality specs, but as far as the other quality specs, we are right on the money. We had a little bit of sprout damage with the rain during the late harvest, but it hasn't been anything that we haven't been able to work through.


Pictured are Nathan Scafe and his family. Scafe farms both irrigated and dryland acres in the Ashton area. Photo provided by Nathan Scafe.

Were there any specific challenges or unexpected factors that impacted your grain production in the 2023 growing season?

SCAFE: Yeah, just all the rain that we got. The rains through the growing season were good; they helped where we didn't have to water quite as much, and my dry farm yields, which are usually around 65 to 70 bushels, we ended up getting around 80 bushels, even with lower test weights. It probably would have been 85 to 90 if we didn’t get rained on at harvest. The rains were good for the crop, but then through harvest, they were really bad for the crop.

WILKINS: No, not really. It was a cool spring, but after that, things went pretty good. We didn't have the problem on our farm because we were done combining by then, but there were some guys in our area that were later, and we got a rainstorm, and they had some pre-harvest sprout, but we didn't have it on our farm.

SAMOWITZ: We weren't lacking in the moisture department for our dry farm, but we had different challenges. We were about a month behind starting our seeding, which put everything behind. I would say about 15% of our operation we had as fallow because we weren’t able to get everything planted, so we had some preventative plant claims. Follow that all the way through; we were a month later starting harvest, which, in our area (we farm above 6,000 feet), if you're not done with harvest by mid-September to early October, you may not get it done because we may start fighting early winter weather. With the later harvest, we were challenged to finish the harvest before winter. We normally have about an eight-week window to get our harvest complete. In 2023, we had to get it done in four to six weeks. I think our biggest challenge right now is the moisture content of our grain in our bins, just trying to get that dry. Every year is different and this was definitely a year we've never experienced.


Pictured are Steve Samowitz and his family. Samowitz farms roughly 10,000 acres of dry farm along with his father-in-law, Scott Brown, in Soda Springs. Photo provided by Steve Samowitz.

Are there specific lessons learned from 2023 that you plan to apply or adjust for the upcoming growing season?

SCAFE: The trouble is you can’t really outguess the weather. The thing that messed us up was just the harvest rains. They were so sporadic, and we didn’t hardly have a week without any rain. And so there was really nothing we could do about it. I have insurance, so I am going to keep malt endorsement on my insurance. That has paid out with some of the barley we’ve had problems with. That’s one of the practices I will keep; it’s more expensive, but so far, it’s been paying out.

WILKINS: I learn something new every year, but I don't know that there was anything big that stood out. We are going to plant a new variety this year. And that’s just because our old variety is being discontinued, so that will be different. We will be planting Odyssey, and the only change will be that we have to use a growth stimulator, which we didn’t use on our old one.

SAMOWITZ: I guess the lesson we learn every year is that we have to just kind of change and adapt to what Mother Nature gives us and just keep our eye on the forecast and adjust our process and procedures accordingly.

And are there market trends or opportunities that will influence your decision-making for 2024?

SCAFE: The malt companies are contracting fewer bushels, so we might be growing more wheat, and with the prices of everything it is still a guess on what type of wheat we will grow.

WILKINS: The price is down for barley. We vary a little bit each year, but pretty much we're staying with the program on the number of acres we plant.

SAMOWITZ: We definitely have our eyes on the market changes and are ready to adapt to meet those changing needs, but I don't foresee anything particular in 2024 that we will be changing. Our plan is to plant our normal amount of barley.