Ryan Luckhardt, a junior at Saline High School, was selected as an on-farm operator for a malting barley variety trial in partnership with New Growth Associates, Michigan State University, and Fermenta, a women’s craft beverage trade group collective. Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development, as part of a wider effort to revitalize malting barley production in Michigan, sponsors this research.
Megan Phillips Goldenberg, the owner and primary consultant of New Growth Associates (NGA), has been making the case for the re-localization of niche grains in the Ann Arbor area since 2014. In conjunction with Michigan State University, this Saline based consulting firm has conducted research that showcases the real economic opportunities for medium sized farms to diversify their income streams by participating in the craft beverage industry.
“The local food movement has largely left out medium sized, commodity producing farms. This is one way for those farms to connect directly with the craft food and beverage industry while also increasing their income and diversifying their crop plans. It’s a very exciting opportunity for our local farmers,” says Goldenberg.
One barrier to increased production of malting barley in southeastern Michigan is the lack of information on the viability of winter planted varieties. This small grant from Washtenaw County allows for two years of on-farm variety trials at the Luckhardt Farm, as well as field days and workshops for interested farmers.
In the summer of 2017, Goldenberg began soliciting on-farm operators located in Washtenaw County. Mr. Dave Mellor, agriculture educator at Saline Schools, reached out to Goldenberg, a former student of SHS, and recommended partnering with Ryan Luckhardt. “I was skeptical about working with a student at first,” says Goldenberg, “but after further discussion, it became clear that Ryan represents the ideal farm cooperator. The opportunity to engage ag students, FFA participants, and Farm Bureau members in the project is an added bonus.”
This fall, Ryan will plant four one-acre test plots plus a 10-acre production plot on his family farm in Saline with help from Christian Kapp, field crop research technician at MSU’s Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center (UPREC). Next summer, successful varieties will be micro-malted by Macon Creek Malt House and brewed under similar conditions. The intention is to not only gather agronomical data on the malting barley crops, but also sensory data on the malts and beers. “One outstanding question about craft malt is how much the crop variety affects the final beverage. Can grains possess ‘terroir’? Can we develop a sense of ‘terroir’ in craft beer? This trial will give us valuable production data and will also help answer some of these questions,” says Ashley McFarland, coordinator at UPREC.