Marquette Food Co-op helps save Michigan Beer

Tonight, the Marquette City Commission took a moment to thank two dignitaries from the Marquette Food Co-op for saving Michigan beer.

Matt Gougeon and Natasha Lantz were honored for their foresight in seeing that, in five to ten years, there could be a severe malt and barley shortage that would affect not only Michigan microbreweries, but beer companies across the country. The pair did their part to help solve the problem by bringing together members of the Michigan Brewers Guild and researchers at the Chatham extension of Michigan State University so they could find a solution before the taps run dry.

“Pretty much all of the malted barley that the entire nation uses comes out of a few malting houses in North Dakota,” explained Jason Schneider, a Marquette City Commissioner. “What you’re seeing is cropland starting to get more valuable for corn and soy; less barley is being made. With less barley, it’s basically the Anheuser Busch, the Coors, the Millers that are buying all of it. We’re watching the supplies go down, significantly. The Michigan microbreweries and microbreweries all over the country use, proportionally, so much more barley than any of the other larger manufacturers that there’s going to be a shortage coming. If that happens, the craft brewers in Michigan won’t have access to malt.”

“Certainly there’s an opportunity for Upper Peninsula farmers to begin to grow malting barley. But, currently, there’s a need for further research to grow barley that has the specific characteristics required for the brewing industry,” noted Matt Gougeon, General Manager of the Marquette Food Co-op. “That’s what MSU Extension is working on; developing that actual strain of barley or identifying that strain of barley for farmers to then grow.”

Big companies like Coors and Anheuser Busch dwarf the output of microbreweries. But, what those smaller outfits lack in size, they make up for in consumption, using close to 20 percent of the national barley crop. Currently, there is only one farm in the U.P. producing barley.