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Sen. Chuck Schumer wants USDA's help to make NY 'Napa Valley of beer'

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Ken Migliorelli

In this Wednesday, March 2, 2016 photo, farmer Ken Migliorelli shows off dried barley before it is malted, at his family's farm in Red Hook, N.Y. Migliorelli, who owns the fruit and vegetable farm where From The Ground brewery is located, said his well-draining sandy soil is ideal for growing malting barley. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer is continuing his push to boost malting barley production in New York and help the state become the "Napa Valley of craft beer." 

On a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Schumer, D-N.Y., said he's urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to extend the malting barley endorsement — a form of premium crop insurance — to New York farmers. 

The malting barley endorsement is available to farmers in select states, but not New York. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, at Schumer's request, recently made general malting barley crop insurance available to 44 counties in New York. 

Schumer said the endorsement is important because it would help farmers insure the malting barley crop at a higher level. And that could give growers more of an incentive to produce malting barley, which is a delicate crop. 

Droughts, floods and excessive heat could damage malting barley crops. Schumer said having the insurance for malting barley is "more crucial" to aid farmers that have been reluctant to plant it. 

Malting barley is a key ingredient in brewing beer. It's also used by distillers in the production of spirits. 

"If you're a brewer, you need a lot of malt barley to make the entire process work," Schumer said. "Growing malt barley should be a great opportunity for our farmers, but there are many obstacles, risks and costs that stand in the way." 

Congressional approval isn't needed for New York growers to be eligible for the malting barley endorsement. Schumer said the U.S. Department of Agriculture can take administrative action to extend the program to the state's farmers. He's hopeful that will happen soon. 

There's another reason for Schumer's push. A farm brewery law enacted in 2012 requires beer producers to acquire a minimum amount of hops and other ingredients from within New York. 

The current standard, which will be in effect until the end of 2018, mandates that no less than 20 percent of the hops and 20 percent of other ingredients used by breweries must be grown in New York. The percentages will increase to 60 percent beginning in 2019 and 90 percent in 2024. 

Schumer said securing the malting barley endorsement will increase the number of farmers who want to grow the crop and increase the supply, which will help breweries meet the 90 percent goal in seven years. 

"If we don't get more malt barley that won't happen, so that'll hurt us," he said. 

Upstate New York is home to 213 craft breweries, according to Schumer's office. There are 27 in central New York. 

The craft breweries in Cayuga County include Aurora Ale & Lager Co. in King Ferry, Good Shepherds Brewing Co. in Auburn, Lunkenheimer Craft Brewing Company in Weedsport, Prison City Pub & Brewery in Auburn and Summerhill Brewing in Summerhill. 

Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.


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