Barley needs a boost (Editorial)

Barley is getting some attention again. And that’s good news for Mid-Atlantic farmers.
Agronomically, it comes off early under normal conditions handing producers a couple of extra weeks in their double-crop soybean season. It’s also a good cover crop and it’s prized as a feedstock in ethanol production.
We say it’s getting attention “again.”
A few years back, the Maryland Grain Producers Association mounted an effort to build an ethanol plant on an industrial site, near Baltimore and not far from the Bay Bridge.
That project fell through but the former Osage BioEnergy company announced it would build an ethanol plant in Hopewell, Va., which is back in business under new ownership and ready to buy barley.
So, following up on an appeal from the Maryland Farm Bureau on June 30, the entire Maryland Congressional delegation sent a letter to the EPA, asking that ethanol from winter barley be considered an advanced biofuel.
The lawmakers wrote: “If the EPA finalizes the status review of winter barley for ethanol, Maryland barley growers would see opportunities in new biofuel markets,” including, of course, the new plant in Virginia.
The letter to the EPA said: “With an ethanol plant in Hopewell, Virginia, … a determination that winter barley-to-ethanol is an advanced biofuel would help develop a new domestic fuel source, improve water quality and generate economic benefits for Maryland’s agricultural economy by creating a market for this highly effective winter cover crop.
“For nearly two decades, Maryland grain farmers have provided financial support to small grains experts at Virginia Tech to develop barley cultivars with improved biofuel-related traits. Approval of winter barley as an advanced biofuel … would help diversify the operation of the Hopewell plant and contribute to its success in producing alternative fuels.”
Vireol Bio Energy LLC has commissioned the former Osage Bio Energy facility and begun production of ethanol, according to a company press release. The company, which will produce ethanol from corn, barley and other small grains, invested more than $26.2 million to begin production at the facility, creating 70 new jobs.
Lindsay Dodd, the new special assistant to the Maryand Grain Producers, said MGPA was “following this issue very closely. The application for barley to be approved as a feedstock for advanced biofuels has been ongoing since 2012 at which time MGPA and the Maryland Department of Agriculture also sent letters to EPA. We are hoping the congressional letter has some weight in urging them to move forward, at least with winter barley.”
Vireol Bio Energy says it intends to process approximately 21.7 million bushels of grains that the company will need over the next three years. That will produce more than 170 million gallons of ethanol.
Maryland farmers, and barley growers throughout the region, would like a piece of that market.