Written by: Chris Spasoff
What are the top three things that make you successful at growing malt barley? That’s the question we put to Wade McAllister, a fifth-generation grain farmer who works 4,000 acres alongside his dad and brother in central Alberta. The McAllisters have been growing malt barley at Antler Valley Farm for 60 years and know just what it takes to produce a successful crop.
Here are Wade’s top three tips:
1. Put in a grain dryer
“That’s one of our biggest tools. Especially when the crop is too high in moisture, you don’t want to risk leaving it out in the field and getting more rain on it, which, in the end, is damaging the quality. We’ll take it off at around 18% moisture and run it through a grain dryer and that way we can capture the best quality that we can.”
2. Straight-cut the crop
“We straight-cut all of our barley. I’d rather not leave it in swaths and risk getting it rained on, especially in the area that we live in. Weather is so tough to predict.”
3. Invest in good-quality storage
“We invested a lot of money in proper storage. We can take really good care of it [the crop]. We can do different things to prevent spoilage and help with the overall quality.”
Select seed strategically
Those are Wade’s top three suggestions, but he has plenty more. “First things first, we make sure we grow the varieties that the maltsters want. You’ve got to make sure you’re staying on top of your game and making sure you know what to grow,” says Wade, adding that good-quality seed is critical. “Fusarium is starting to move into our region now, so we have to make sure we are growing Fusarium-free seed,” he says. “Ensure you put it in the ground with a seed treatment to get the best start possible.”
Wade also notes it’s essential to keep the crop as clean as possible with a full herbicide program. “We add a little bit of fungicide in with the herbicides just to help with disease and take the pressure off until we can get in there with a full application.”
Connect with maltsters and brewers
Aside from agronomics, Wade says that strong relationships with maltsters and brewers add to the farm’s success. This past season, they worked with Tool Shed Brewing Company, one of Alberta’s top craft brewers, to make a beer with barley grown exclusively by Antler Valley Farm. In honour of the beer and their relationship with the brewer, the McAllisters wrapped one of their combines with the Tool Shed logo.
“The relationship with these brewers is awesome because it’s the end-user for our product and we get to learn about what they do and they get to learn about what we do. It’s just really good for everybody. Especially with the consumers, too, just seeing where their product comes from, what they’re drinking, just closing that whole loop. It’s something that’s never been done before and it’s the only product that we grow that we know exactly where it’s going. It’s pretty special.”
Listen to our entire conversation on this podcast: